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Sonaksha Iyengar Creates Illustrated Series to Bust Misconceptions About Mental Illness

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Describing what it’s like to live with mental illness can be hard, so instead, Sonaksha Iyengar is illustrating it.

“Sometimes words can be hard to describe the chaos that the brain feels like – whether it is a bundle of emotions or a mental disorder,” Iyengar told The Mighty. “After having numerous conversations with friends about the stigma associated with it and facing difficulties with the way people approach the subject myself, I really wanted to create something tangible to start a conversation.”

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has become so widely known that it is regularly a part of jokes (No, that is not okay). While it is good that people are aware about it, it is unfair to claim to have OCD when you don’t. Everyone who loves cleanliness does not have OCD. OCD is characterised by recurring thoughts and actions and please don’t tell them to ‘relax’. What is very important to understand is that these are uncontrollable and cause a great deal of anxiety. While excessive cleaning, aggressive thoughts and compulsive counting are the most common manifestations, please don’t self diagnose. People who live with OCD everyday spend a significant amount of their day thinking about these compulsions or performing them, not by choice, and it can get exhausting to say the least. #atozofmentalhealth – – – – – #365daysofart #drawingaday #36daysoftype @36daysoftype #36days_O #36daysoftype04 #mentalhealth #art #typography #lettering #ocd #anxiety #tired #obsessivecompulsivedisorder #watercolor #igart #sketchbook #digitalart #illustration #selflove #care #endthestigma #brain #mentalhealthawareness #panic #huffpostarts

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Iyengar’s desire to create something tangible became the “a to z of mental health,” a series of illustrations the 22-year-old artist shares on Instagram. The A to Z format is part of the 36 Days of Type challenge, an Instagram-based challenge which invites illustrators and designers to express their views on letters and numbers in the alphabet.  “The alphabet is one of the first things we are taught in schools, so I think it is just as important to learn about mental health, hence the format,” she said. 

 

 

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In the two weeks since Iyengar started posting, the Bengaluru, India based artist has created 16 illustrations, and is currently up to the letter “P.” So far, Iyengar has covered anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, kleptomania, mood disorders, eating disorders and grief.

“I wish people understood that mental illnesses do not come with a clock. You can’t have a time stamp and say this is when it is going to end,” she said. “Some of these illnesses are chronic, and it is important [for people] to know that even if they spend all their life battling with it, we should give them the space to do so and help by being kinder.”

As part of her process, Iyengar, who lives with a mental illness herself, researches each condition – visiting forums and other discussion boards to identify myths and see what aspects of each condition people have a hard time explaining. “It is really disheartening to see people make assumptions about mental health, illnesses and disorders. We hear things like, ‘Get over it,’ ‘Stop asking for attention,’ ‘Liars,’ ‘It’s just a phase,’ all the time and it is really unfair to make such statements that are so hurtful to anyone having a hard time with the chaos in their head,” she explained. “Awareness will help us make a start in the right direction towards kindness and empathy. So with the series, I hope to address mental health using a combination of mental disorders and illnesses with emotions that a lot of us perhaps feel in varying intensities.”

 

 

While Iyengar hopes to shed light on as many mental illnesses as possible, she knows she won’t be able to cover them all as part of her A to Z format. After the series is over, she said, she hopes to continue illustrating misconceptions, covering conditions that might not have made the first cut.

“I definitely plan on continuing to work on this beyond the Z and highlight as many as possible,” she added. “I’m taking into consideration all the suggestions I’m getting and hoping to work on them.”

In addition to suggestions regarding which mental illnesses to illustrate, Iyengar said she’s received a lot of messages from people who’ve identified with her work.

“I’m truly moved by the kind of responses people have had so far,” she said “People have sent in direct messages sharing their stories and telling me how touched they are that I was able to highlight aspects of their illness that no one understood. That for me is the best possible outcome… I feel so much pain to hear these stories and struggles but also hope that we are able to share it through art and find relief.”

You can see more of Iyengar’s “a to z of mental health series,” on Instagram

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7 Reasons People With Mental Illnesses Are Strong AF

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If you struggle with mental illness, you may have heard the following comment before. People will tell you that your mental illness is a choice. You are choosing to feel sad. You need to just relax and lighten up. Fighting a mental illness is hard work, and it takes strength. Here are just some of the reasons why we are certified badasses:

1. We adapt.

This is a major strength in fighting these types of illnesses. Your illness may make you question everything at times. You may not want to get out of bed, but we fight our brains every day.

2. We struggle.

Struggling with your own negative thoughts is hard work. We must build strength and move forward. It can often feel like your own mind turns against you.

3. We fight.

We fight negative thoughts. We fight stereotypes. We fight to stay true to ourselves. We face judgment and ignorance.

4. We face stigma.

Even in 2017, people are ignorant about the reality of mental illness. They think it’s a choice or it’s something we can turn on and off. Some people feel scared when they hear the dreaded word, “schizo.” They say people with depression are just lazy or not trying hard enough. Insurance companies treat it differently, even though it is an important part of your overall health.

5. We keep showing up for treatment.

Psychiatrists, therapists, specialists, oh my! It may take multiple mental health professionals to help with treatment, but we have to show up. We go to every doctor appointment and therapy session. Keeping up with medicine is also important, and we manage it carefully if we are able to. Some people have to have someone manage it for them. Either way, we are strong for going. It is hard to admit that you need help.

6. We deal with medicine and side effects.

Those of us who choose to use medicine face all kinds of side effects and have to deal with adjustment periods. We deal with it to stay stable. There can be little, temporary side effects like nausea or headaches. Some people have to deal with movement issues from antipsychotics. Antidepressants can have all kinds of unwanted side effects such as weight gain or loss of libido — it’s not fun. You can often feel like a lab rat. It can take a frustratingly long amount of time to find a mixture that works.

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7. We show emotions.

In many cases, we cry or yell or show other emotions when symptomatic. Big displays of emotion such as crying spells can be seen as weakness. It takes a brave person to be unafraid of their emotions.

Stay strong, my people!

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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The Aftermath of Therapy: Relearning How to Ask for Help

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I used to laugh at myself sometimes, as I sat in my therapist’s office. It’s been years since, and my memory can be unreliable at times, but this… this I remember. She was my first therapist, my first foray into asking for help, and she’d tried so very, very hard to be what I needed. She was soft spoken, with a kind voice and even kinder eyes, and at the end of a handful of sessions, she’d told me she didn’t think I was ready to get better. I remember letting myself back into my apartment after that, trying not to cry too loudly as I fumbled with my keys. Therapy had been a special sort of masochism, and I’d largely spent our hours together sobbing into the tissues she helpfully placed within my reach.

After we stopped seeing each other, I began to question if therapy was the right choice. A part of me felt like I’d betrayed not only myself, but my family and friends as well, by unearthing so many of our stories and giving voice to them. And when I wasn’t feeling disloyal, I felt guilty for making my therapist listen to me at all. “How self-centered,” I thought. “How narcissistic and petty and privileged.” I despaired of myself, which sounds like I was a conflicted Regency heroine, but then again I remember a fair bit of intense hand wringing while staring morosely out the window, so maybe the comparison can be forgiven. The hand wringing would more often than not be accompanied by, “What is wrong with me?” I would turn the question over and over until the words started to sound strange together, but it was as if ever since I learned to ask that question, I couldn’t stop. What’s wrong with me? How could I do this to someone, inflicting myself on them like that? What right did I have?

It was this circular, self-damning kind of thinking that nudged me towards therapy in the first place. Struck by a sense of optimism, I’d showed up at my university’s mental health services office and battled down the innate paranoia (“I have to give them information! They’ll keep my name on file for a decade! What am I doing? Oh my God, what am I doing?”) I’d never before talked to anyone about the terror I carry with me, and at the time, it seemed like my whole world was closing ranks, ducking for cover while I was trying to shoehorn it into the open. I remember sitting in that stiff armchair, in that dimly lit office with its obligatory plant and box of tissues, and I remember laughing at myself in between tears. It was absurd, all of it was absurd, and for being the one to set this tragicomedy in motion, I was the most absurd of all.

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That isn’t to say I didn’t take my own issues seriously, or that I’d sought therapy to carry out some sort of terrible practical joke. But I use humor as a self-preservation tactic and always have. If my only options were to either believe I’m the most Serious Person to ever Be Serious, and therefore cry myself swollen every day, or to deflect and poke fun at myself every now and then, guess which one I’d choose? My therapist, though, would aim these very pointed, sympathetic looks at me whenever I made a self-deprecating joke, and I think (though I can’t actually presume to know), given her comments to me at the end, that she believed I was undercutting my problems and lessening them. Maybe she didn’t think I meant it enough, that I wasn’t committed enough to not feeling like a heap of sadness day in and day out. Maybe she didn’t think she could help me, but it came out wrong, lost in translation from thought to words. Maybe my memory is a fun house mirror and I’m remembering everything flipped around and turned inside out, in the way that my brain wants me to remember it: a vaguely hurtful experience that was my fault.

Because here’s the gist of it, which took me years to admit: it hurt. Does that sound melodramatic? (I’ve always believed I’ve a flair for the theatrics and the overreacting.) I’d told her things I never allowed myself to talk about before, despite only a handful of sessions together. And while a part of me had been expecting a scoff, or a rebuff along the lines of, “You have nothing to be sad about,” I don’t think I was fully prepared to hear a variant of, “I don’t know how to help you. I don’t know if you want to be helped,” delivered with such hesitance or such kindness. While it couldn’t have been her intention to confirm everything I believed was wrong with me (my fault my fault my fault), that’s still how it came across. And for someone who is always eager and ready to believe in the worst of herself, I took that apparent confirmation and ran with it.

So it wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, then. There is something wrong with me — I just can’t be reached. Why didn’t anyone tell me before now that I wasn’t meant to feel better? Maybe I am just selfish and awful and desperate enough to do this to myself. Maybe I just wanted attention. And oh, for God’s sake, what have I been putting that poor woman through, making her listen to me?

I wasn’t ready to find another therapist for a long, long time afterward.

Instead, in the immediate aftermath, I retreated even further into myself. I made objectively horrible choices, and it felt like all of the scotch tape that I’d been using to keep up appearances was being stripped away faster than I could replace it. It felt like I was a train wreck waiting to happen, and it was only sheer force of will that kept me on any kind of semblance of tracks. I remember, one night, burrowed in my bed and crying, telling myself, you have to stop. You need to stop.

I’m not fooling myself into thinking that that was what kept me from metaphorically crashing and burning. But I like to think of it as the lowest point. I’d already hit rock bottom, and there weren’t any more heights from which I could fall. I had to go up. I had to drag myself together, had to find the hands that I’d left somewhere on the way down, and sift through all of the shards of myself that I’d scattered around me. I taught myself to talk again. I pried the words from behind my teeth and held them up to the light. I let my friends hold me, I let them sit beside me and slowly, I let them see how inside, I was flying.

I don’t know if I succeeded in piecing myself together again. There are still moments when I feel like I’ve jigsawed myself incorrectly, when I imagine if I close my eyes and concentrate, I can hear slivers and corners jangling against each other, grating and wrong. But on my good days, I allow myself to look at my new therapist’s card, and almost book a follow-up appointment with her. On my good days, I let myself believe that I don’t have to feel like this all the time, that maybe, just maybe, I can carve out some peace for myself and not feel guilty about it. On good days, I might actually ask for help.

And on my best days, I tell myself, in as convincing tones as I can manage, “It’s going to get better. You want this, you want this, you want this.”

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12 Things People Who Don't Work Because of Mental Illness Wish Others Understood

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While many people who live with a mental illness are able to manage their condition while working full-time, like any unpredictable health condition, sometimes you just can’t. And whether you need to go on a short-term work leave or stop working entirely, there’s a lot of shame associated with not working because of a mental illness — as if you’re just making up an excuse or simply don’t want to work.

But it’s not “just an excuse” — it’s a valid reason to need time off and can be a valid reason to qualify for disability benefits. To address some of the misconceptions about people who don’t work or receive disability benefits because of their mental illness, we asked people in our community who are currently unemployed or who have been unemployed in the past what they wish people understood about their experience.

Here’s what they want others to know:

1. “We don’t sit at home abusing the system, collecting money and doing whatever we please. We sit at home with depression that leaves us [in bed], or anxiety so forceful that we can’t take a step out of the house, or in a psychotic episode where we don’t even know our own name. I could go on. Mental illness comes with many symptoms that can stop a person living a ‘normal’ life. Yes, medications and therapy can help these illnesses, but it’s not a cure, and often only some symptoms are relieved while we are left with the rest to battle ourselves. Do not judge what you don’t understand, and do not let those few who abuse the system fool you into thinking everyone is the same. Because we are not.”

2. “People only see me on my good days and probably think I don’t need the disability. What they don’t understand is there are a lot of days I never leave the house because I can’t cope on that particular day.”

3. “I don’t effing want this. I want my career back. If you look at folks on mental health disability and think, ‘Wow, I’d love to have all that time for ____,’ you are ridiculously misinformed on what it’s like to fight it when it reaches this point. If we could even kind of enjoy ‘all that time,’ we’d be back to work. I’d still take my career every time.”

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4. “It is absolutely not what we wish was happening. That it is not a vacation. That it is not fun. There are weekly doctor appointments. You wish you could be back at work, back with your friends, back at school functions — back to your life. Every part of you wishes you were not.”

5. “We’re not lazy… we’re trying to survive each day.”

6. “At one point [my mental illness] was so bad, I couldn’t go to work to make a paycheck. Mental illness is not something we chose to have. It’s something we can’t control, and we can’t ‘fix’ ourselves overnight.”

7. “I’m tired of people thinking because I can’t work that I’m not capable of doing anything. I have a lot on my plate, and every part of me wants to work and have a job, but my mental illness makes even my daily tasks seem impossible. I just really want to work and accomplish things.”

8. “[Being on disability] has helped me live more than anything. Not having any money meant I couldn’t really do anything. Now that I’m on benefits, I have the responsibility of paying for things myself, and it helps me to get out of the house.”

9. “We work, but differently. We work at maintaining stability. We work at not breaking down. We work at practicing our coping skills. We work at fighting horrible thoughts. We work.”

10. “We aren’t ‘living it up’ on the taxpayer’s dollar. What little income is received barely affords medicine and food, much less rent. The stigma of being on public assistance amplifies the anxiety and depression. It’s embarrassing to admit it when people ask, ‘What do you do for a living?”’ and having to explain you are on disability and your disability is ‘in your head.’ Nobody want’s to be made to feel like a liability to society.”

11. “Not being able to work because of rapid mood swings and psychosis isn’t making excuses so I don’t have to work.”

12. “I’d like others to understand that not all disabilities are visible. I’d like others to understand that even though I may be receiving a benefit, I continue to advocate on behalf of others with mental health issues, doing what I can with what I have to give, which is my lived-experience. I may well be receiving a benefit, but I’m choosing in return to do unpaid work as an advocate, thereby putting that benefit to what I believe is good use… Having choice of what I wish to put my experience towards helps to keep my symptoms managed, and the benefits I receive help me to be empowered to do that. Lastly, what I’d like others to understand is this: We, persons with disabilities due to mental health issues, are [held back] through stigma in this society still. This makes advocacy that much more important for persons with lived experience to be able to engage. We’re not invited to many tables in which we can influence change. But we do choose to give back.”

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Living With Mental Illness on Social Media

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What if we all told the truth? The truth to the question that Facebook asks you when you open up your page.

What’s on your mind?

The truth to the question that Twitter asks you when you tweet.

What’s happening?

How many times have you started to write something, only to delete it before you post it? How many times have you deleted a post after you hit enter, with your heart racing as you think to yourself, “Oh shit, please God, I hope no one read that! I hope no one read that I am sitting here, tears streaming down my face, feeling completely broken inside at this moment. I hope no one knows I am having anxiety and that I am not perfect. From what I can tell from everyone else’s statuses, I am a complete mess. I need to just get my shit together and find out how all these people on my friends list are living such perfect lives.

How many of you have had those moments? I have had them many times.

I have had them many times.

Sometimes my social media gives the impression that I am the poster child for having my shit together. If you scroll through my newsfeed, you would find lots of cute animal pictures, happy times with my family, some kick-ass baking photos of stuff I whip up, funny posts to make you laugh out loud and even some encouraging positive quotes to help you get through your day. I love to be positive and happy. I am a Transformation Life Coach, an AA sponsor and a meditation coach, but I am not always positive and happy. I have a hunch that through your smiling faces and your beautiful family photos, that you are not either. So why do we do this to each other?

In all fairness, there are many people who live a relatively stress-free, beautiful happy amazing life. I’m not talking about those people. I am talking about the people who strive to be a picture of those people, instead of embracing imperfection, uncertainty and hard times. I am talking about people who live with mental illness that sometimes brings them to a dark place.

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The positive quotes I post — I believe in whole heartily. The breathtaking moments I enjoy in nature, along with the silly pics of my cats are all moments that bring me true peace and joy. From an outsider looking in, my social media life is pretty dang amazing; just like a lot of yours are too.

But if you stick around long enough, or scroll far enough into my newsfeed, or have read my blog, you will also find days that I am falling into the abyss of the big black hole of nothingness where anxiety and depression linger. I write about it. I don’t hide it. I don’t anymore. I used to. It is painful trying to live up to social media standards of perfect living, don’t you think?

Opinions about what to share and what not to share on social media are sometimes a set up for those who are living behind the social media mask, trying not to be found out.

Each and every single day, we try to portray our perfect life to others, in this imperfect world, through our perfect filtered selfies. I wrote a blog earlier last year titled “What If They Find Out.”

I totally get what it is like trying to protect yourself from judgment and chatter. The stigma that exists with mental illness is evident through some memes and videos.

I read every day about the difficulty people have being open and honest about their mental health and trying to keep up with the social media frat party when they are falling apart inside. I came across an article today of a woman who talked about this herself. Too many people are feeling inadequate and ashamed of their struggles with mental illness because social media has trained us to show only the happy times, even the fake happy times. It has become a competition of who has the best life.

There will always be people who judge you and fail to understand mental illness. It is up to you to decide how much their opinion matters to you.

I love social media, don’t get me wrong. It might seem like I am a hater but I am not. I love the idea of keeping connected to friends I don’t see often and seeing pictures of family I might never see. I love the recipes and the feel-good stories that do show up in my feed. I love the cool craft ideas and the shopping I probably shouldn’t love so much. I love to joke and have fun with my friends on there.

What I don’t like, is that social media can be part of the problem of why people feel ashamed. You have the happy giggly girls that are so full of life and spirit with all their party pics and new dresses. You have the jocks with their hockey pics and score updates. You have music groups that seem to love being in front of the crowd, singing their heart out with no social anxiety.

Then you have the people who wish they were like those people. The people who think that those people are perfect. And that is the problem. No one has a perfect life. Social media makes you want to challenge that and say, “Really? Are you sure, because from those status updates of how amazing their weekend was, and the pics of their big huge holiday bash, it certainly feels like their lives are perfect in comparison to mine.” And there you sit feeling terminally unique from everyone else.

Those of you that think those “other” people have their shit together and are better than you, I need to tell you, they are not. If you are posting about your heartache, your anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, mania, cutting, eating disorder or anything else you think those other people don’t have experience with and it helps you in some way, don’t stop! If it helps you, don’t stop and don’t be ashamed to wear your heart on your sleeve. I heard a quote long ago that said, “If you don’t like that I wear my heart on my sleeve, stop looking at my sleeve.”

You might one day be a lifeline for one of those “other” people who were not brave enough to be honest until you were.

When I began writing and being published, I had people on my social media that portrayed that perfect world come to me and say, “Hey, I feel this way too, what can I do? I am really falling apart.”

I will not be ashamed of being imperfect.

So, the next time Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” or Twitter asks “What’s happening?” decide whether you will be honest. If you don’t want to share your personal struggles on social media that is your prerogative, but please, don’t pretend like you don’t have any.

That’s the difference.

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How Mental Illness Brought Out the Survivor in Me

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

It was not the sudden departure of my soul that killed me. It was the tearing out of self, tile by tile, while my terrified pupils watched without recourse, until I had been thrown with cruel abandon in so many directions that it was impossible to remember what it felt like to be whole. It was the sudden ghostly paleness of my world that left me dazed and I felt around anxiously for my passion, which had gone. Yet within the confusion I found an acuity of awareness that lingered. I felt the visceral presence of anguish. I felt the violent brush of pain against my skin. I felt the powerlessness, void of mercy. I watched the last of my hope dissipate like dew in the searing heat. I could see and feel the decomposition of self with such intensity – like ruthless torture for an answer I never possessed.

And then it was as if time had stopped and I watched myself, fingertips raw, grasping for the sorry remains of my shattering. Day after day searching for any congruency, but finding nothing, wanting of a whole. Unable to save myself I asked for help, but saw only revulsion and fear in the eyes of those who promised to stay. There is an acute loneliness, for which I cannot find words, when those that cradled the last of your hope place it at your feet and retreat. They must know I didn’t ask for this – that after 10 years in the stranglehold of anorexia nervosa I pled earnestly for peace. Instead my capable mind is cloaked in charcoal blackness until even though I am breathing, I am sure I have perished.

I must admit it most excruciating to become a ghost in a life that could be so much more. To be sick for so long that empathy becomes resentment. To feel apologetic for your pain. To fear death, then feel like it’s the only answer, then begin wanting for it.

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I sweep up my splintered self, unsure if this is a path towards death or it makes room for new life. It’s a gamble I am willing to take. Why the infiltrating, unforgiving veins of darkness breed in the nest of possibility, of happiness, of hope, I have never understood.

But despite the inclination towards cynicism that a lifetime of anorexia and major depression has bred, I won’t give up on the idea that when I finally piece myself back into a whole, I will be a more evolved, empathic, confident woman. Mental illness exposed my ability to splinter, but it also taught me that I am capable of becoming a survivor. Sadness can in fact be the catalyst for positive evolution. I am pieced back together by an evolving belief that hope in fact does live in my journey.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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