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How Quitting Meditation Helped Me Be Honest in My Mental Illness Recovery

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Awhile ago, I spent over two hundred dollars to embark on a quest to get an online Bachelor of Spiritual Healing. I never received my degree. I couldn’t force myself to finish once I realized two things: I do not like meditation and I had a mental illness.

I hypothesized my problems might be solved through spiritual healing combined with some chakra balancing or cleansing. I woke up early to go downstairs in the dark. I sat in a chair and forced myself to meditate. Instead of spiritual revelation, I ended up with a backache and frustration.

I watched awkward online videos of teachers who did not represent what I wanted in my life. I didn’t want to wear flowing robes or have tie dye wall hangings. I didn’t want to sit on a small wooden bench and focus on my breath for hours every day. I couldn’t be enticed with communal living and intensive courses, though at times I wished I could.

Mostly I wanted a simple and obvious solution. I wanted to find a way to heal and be in control of myself. I sought for that healing and control in ways advertised by others, paying for the potential of experiencing peace and healing. I was willing to do what it took to end up where I felt I needed to be.

I felt if I padded my resume with more knowledge and sought for my solution in as many varied locations as possible, I would somehow stumble upon it. I prayed, I read scriptures and yes, I meditated. But I had a hard time feeling those things.

Only eventually did I realize it was not due to a lack of effort that I didn’t find my solution in spiritual healing. I believe it was because of one simple fact. My problem was not a spiritual one.

I found I was searching in incorrect places and using incorrect means for answers because I failed to properly understand and diagnose the problem. In reality, more important than arriving at a satisfactory conclusion was acknowledging and understanding my starting position.

I learned finding my starting position involves one thing. Being honest with myself.

This can’t be that hard, surely? Well, it’s tough enough that WikiHow has a whole article entitled “How to Be Honest with Yourself” that includes many images, ironically, that strongly resemble the meditation I so detested.

But really, being honest with ourselves involves cutting the crap that ties us to the view we have it all together. It involves brutally acknowledging our failures, our needs and our desires. It involves acknowledging our faults and understanding we aren’t perfect and, more importantly, we don’t have to be. We don’t have to be 100 percent self-sufficient. It’s OK to need other people. It’s OK to need things outside our own skill set to provide.

Once we come to that realization, we are free to explore possibilities that once seemed “lowly” or “demeaning.” For me, once I gave up on the Bachelor of Spiritual Healing and accepted I had mental illness rather than a spiritual one, I could accept the fact I needed professional psychological care.

This possibility I had toyed around with, but ultimately rejected out of fear and a false assessment of own capabilities, became my only viable option once I let honesty control my fate. From that point, I made progress. Once I allowed myself to be governed with honesty and let that honesty define myself to others, I became more whole.

Of course, I am not completely whole. I, like each of us, am a work in progress. We are not perfect. We are not whole.

Instead, I believe this life is about healing. We break a bone and our body does its best to heal itself. It cannot perfect itself, but it does what it can with its limited resources. The same is true with our spiritual and mental health. We can attempt to heal, but we cannot force ourselves into wholeness. We are imperfect, but I believe it’s in accepting this fact that we push ourselves one step closer to the wholeness we so desire.

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Why I Want NoStigmas to Be a 'Mental Health Melting Pot'

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I don’t remember much from grade school history (suicide loss and anxiety had a way of erasing my brain), but the concept of “The Melting Pot” has always stuck with me. People from all over the world, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, could come to the United States of America and be woven into the fabric of the nation. The imagery was beautiful to me.

Of course, I now understand the reality and purpose of such teachings. But, I’m still an idealist. I think that’s a big reason I designed NoStigmas as a global community where people can find judgment-free support, no matter their background. A melting pot, of sorts.

In a recent video, one of our community members Tiffany said, “It takes a village.” She was referring to the generosity of spirit that her family brought to the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago. Those values are woven into the fabric of her community, and now the NoStigmas community as well. That foundation stays strong, even through disharmonious times.

However, we cannot rest on the laurels of our forefathers. We must continue to be diligent in the pursuit of mental health equality for all people. It will mean temperance from the desire to point fingers and call names. It will take fortitude to stand up for what is right, while still maintaining a voice of quiet strength. But mostly, it will require patience. With the system, with each other, with ourselves.

But this doesn’t have to be a chore! Coming together today to plant the seeds of equality that will be harvested by our children and their children should be a joyful process. We can surround ourselves with forward-thinking people and celebrate our differences. Let’s do good work together. Let’s be kind to each other. Let’s hold on to that beautiful dream of “The Melting Pot” and mental health equality for everyone.

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5 Things I Would Tell My Future Self About My Mental Illness Recovery

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I am not naïve. I know my mental illness will not just get up and fly away. It is quite possible this is something I will live with for the rest of my life. And it’s the same for many, many other people. So I wondered, if I could speak to myself, 10 years in the future, what would I say?

1. It’s OK to be afraid.

Some days, everything scares me. Loud noises, bright lights. Spiders. Dark corners. Knocks on the door. Text messages. The thoughts inside my head. The prospect of living my life this way. And automatically, I criticize myself for these fears. Tell myself I’m being ridiculous.

But fear is not always a bad thing. Fear can motivate us. To change. To fight harder. I’m not saying I would want to live with intense, debilitating fear every day. But don’t beat yourself up over it. If you’re scared, that’s OK. Chances are you’re already feeling bad enough. There’s no need to add to it by shouting at yourself!

2. Talk to people.

Don’t keep it all in. Let people help you. They won’t be able to make it all go away, to make all the doubts and worries disappear. But they can be a shoulder to cry on. A hand to hold. It can be so tempting to bottle it all up and avoid ever mentioning your problems. Most of the time though, your friends, your family and your colleagues will want to help. They might not understand, but they will try. So let them.

3. Never apologize for the way you feel.

It’s all too easy to apologize. For anything and everything. A lot of the time, I apologize for my feelings. If I’m tired or depressed or anxious or agitated, I will usually tell somebody I’m sorry. It makes me feel like a burden. But sometimes, I can see I’m not. I can’t help my thoughts and my feelings. No one can. You did not ask for this illness. You did not want it, or choose it. It was not an intentional action. You didn’t wake up this morning and decide you were going to feel so very awful. And so why should you say you’re sorry? You have done nothing wrong. Remember that.

4. You are always enough.

Sometimes, people will not understand your illness, and they will not even try. They will make you feel less of a person, like you’re not worthy of the same amount of love and attention as, say, somebody without depression or anxiety or a personality disorder. Maybe they will even tell you you’re “strange,”you’re “mixed up,” you’re “crazy.” Never believe them. Ever.

You are enough. Always. Exactly as you are. Don’t let the ignorance of others change you. Don’t let it quieten you. Speak up. Shout. Be who you want to be.

5. Never stop fighting.

There will be days, weeks, months, when you feel like it’s all too much. You won’t want to fight anymore. The idea of letting your illness consume you will become so, so strong. But those are the days you have to be stronger than ever before. It will pass. You’re reading this now and you might not believe me. But I’ve been there. I can tell you, in all honesty, those days will pass. The sun will set and you will wake up one morning and feel a little better. So don’t stop. Don’t let it take over. I know it seems impossible sometimes.

But when the world tells you to quit, hope whispers “try one more time.”

And hope will always win. Always.

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How People With Mental Illness Really Feel About Celebrities 'Opening Up' About Mental Health

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It feels like nowadays whenever a celebrity says the word “anxiety,” the internet gets bombarded with a new round of complimentary headlines, praising them for being brave and talking about their mental health. (We do it, too.)

Just this week: Prince William and Lada Gaga Facetimed about mental health stigma, Lili Reinhart from “Riverdale” said she “has the best outlook on mental health” and Kendall Jenner talked anxiety in her Harper’s Bazaar cover story. She also said in a video promoting the issue she “thought she was going to kill herself” after her first heartbreak.

But with all this saturated mental health news, which despite the context are all given similar enthusiastic headlines, the meaning of words like “anxiety” and “mental health” can get convoluted and watered down, and (when I’m feeling cynical) makes talking about mental illness seem like “the next hot thing,” thrown in between news of “who wore what best” and “which celebrity is dating who.” Rarely do these “tell all” interviews get into the nitty gritty. More often, we put sound bites and a single quote on a pedestal, not really thinking about the deeper narrative of their experience and what it means for the rest of us.

This isn’t to undermine the mental health of celebrities — as we know in this community, you can never judge what someone is going through based on their status, appearance or occupation. It’s just that coverage of celebrities speaking out about mental illness, although popular, often only scratches the surface.

At the same time, celebrity culture is a powerful tool for setting standards and normalizing experiences. So when a celebrity decides to get vulnerable about their mental health, whatever their intentions, it does in some way give others permission to do the same. It at least lets others know they’re not alone, which is never a bad thing.

To find out what people who live with mental illness think when celebrities open up about their mental health, we decided to ask our mental health community. We’d love to know what you think — join our conversation in the comments below:

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “I feel conflicted. On one hand, I feel empowered that mental health is being discussed on a larger stage. On the other, it’s not often broken down and only discussed on a surface level. In addition, there’s some issues of romanticizing mental illness, especially anxiety and depression. Overall, it depends on a lot of factors. I do love everything Carrie Fisher (RIP) has done for the mental illness community, and I hope more celebrities try to channel her energy in the future.” — “Emily D.

2. “It annoys me, as I think well, why is their mental health taken with overwhelming sympathy and empathy, and mine is taken with a view that I’m just lazy or a benefit scrounger? It doesn’t change people’s perception of mental illness, it just enhances a more endearing approach to the given celebrity. Just my opinion.” — Ian S.

3. “I’m glad it gives it a stage to appear on where people generally listen, however, it’s also really upsetting that it takes a celebrity to open up about their mental illness for the world to take notice and care that people who [struggle with] these types of things.” –Maddy F.

4. “Encouraged and empowered. The more famous people open up about the importance of mental health, the more everyday people feel comfortable opening up about their own struggles. The more awareness, the better.” — Sarah A.

5. “I am always suspicious. I know they may say the truth, but the fact that almost every celebrity starts talking about having mental health problems at some point, it makes me question whether it’s not some kind of trend nowadays and a way to get more attention.” — Hana K.

6. “Sometimes it seems inauthentic and disingenuous, especially when they talk about their recovery.” — Bethany D.

7. “The same as when some random non-famous person opens up. They’re people, just like every one else.” — Dillion M.

8. “I think a lot of the time it’s done to keep them in the limelight. It doesn’t make the lives of those of us who live with mental illness any better. We could all go public and say I have this mental illness and the rest of the world would say ‘so what, who are you anyway?’ So why are they told ‘well done’?” — Wendy W.

9. “I’m grateful that a person whom many admire and listen to isn’t afraid to give mental illness a face and help the rest of us who live with and fight the stigma on a daily basis. Sometimes people put celebrities on pedestals, this helps remind everyone that they’re human too and that mental illness can affect anyone anywhere.” — Melodie K.

10. “It gives me courage and hope to know that I’m not alone. To see how they handle it means a lot.” — Brandon C.

11. “I’m thankful because the more people talk about it, the less stigma there will be. It’s nice to show the world that you can have everything that you could possibly want and need in the world and still have your brain be against you. Mental illness does not discriminate! Just because you’re in a different tax bracket doesn’t mean you can’t have a mental illness.” — Jamie H.

12. “I appreciate that they’re trying to help end the stigma around mental illness. I feel a lot of empathy for William and Harry as my own mother died shortly after theirs so I have lived through pain like theirs ‘alongside’ them. It seems to me they are saying that no one is immune to mental health despite wealth and opportunity. That said, when services are being cut and children have to live away from support networks such as family so that they can receive treatment and others have to wait so long for treatment; that is were they cannot empathize. I am sure they had access to the best treatment without having to go on a waiting list.” — Tara M.

13. “It’s great knowing that people we look up to, admire, etc. also facing the same challenges. Just because you’re in the spotlight or famous doesn’t mean you can’t/don’t struggle. It’s inspiring, it gives you courage to also be open about your mental illness.” — Mary K.

14. “It humanizes them and reminds me that despite their fame, they are still people with their own individual experiences and stories to tell. We tend to forget the roles celebrities play on screen are the fake part. There was a time when no one knew their names either, and they were no different than the rest of us.” — Katie H.

15. “Sometimes, it makes me wonder if they’re actually being genuine about it or not. Sometimes I often feel like celebrities use this as a fad to build themselves up after some kind of scandal. Having a mental illness isn’t trendy, so those celebrities who use it as a crutch are doing more harm than good.” — Mandy R.

16. “I feel hopeful — even if their story doesn’t apply to me, they are helping someone, somewhere. It normalizes the conversation which minimizes the stigma. Just because they have money and a platform where they can speak out doesn’t mean they struggle any less. It’s not a competition. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate based on race, gender, sexuality or class. We need to stop criticizing and start supporting.” — Allisyn M.

17. “I feel empathy and compassion for them because, at the end of the day, they’re only human and even though they’re in the public eye, it’s important to remember that they go through the same thoughts, feelings and emotions that anyone else does. But, at the same time, I think it shouldn’t take a celebrity talking about mental illness for people to take it seriously. I’d much rather hear someone’s story who isn’t in the public eye.” — Katie S.

18. “I think it’s great, celebrities have spent a large amount of their time gaining the trust and compassion of their fans so it’s a great way for our voices as a whole to be heard. I understand how some people may feel as if the general population cares more for celebrities than everyone else, but the fact of the matter is they don’t know us as well as they know these celebrities, we are strangers to them as is anyone else mental illness or not, we have given them no reason to trust us and follow us. I think celebrities opening up about their mental health is necessary for us to move forward as a whole.” — Stephanie F.

19. “I’m extremely conflicted. Part of me is happy that it’s talked about but another part of me is upset that the only way people seem to really listen to how it impacts people’s everyday lives is when celebrities talk about it. It should be listened to no matter who talks about it in my opinion.” — Erika S.

20. “It depends on who and what their intentions seem to be. One positive example that encourages me is Wentworth Miller. He speaks with honesty and transparency that brings both awareness and vulnerability. He also explains how hard even just speaking about it can be and how much work it took to get to that point. He discusses the pain and the struggles that come with his mental illnesses and how much if a struggle it was and is. He offers resources and encourages seeking out help. His motives always appear to be for helping others and offering hope… I appreciate the celebrities who speak and speak to offer hope on mental illness.” — Hannah S.

21. “It depends. Sometimes I feel like they’re just doing it because it’s ‘fashionable’ and I feel annoyed and hurt by that. Sometimes they’re trying to help the cause, but a non-celeb could help just as well.” — Jess L.

22. “Celebrities have resources ‘normal’ people couldn’t even imagine. So when celebrities come out with a mental health condition and talk about diet and exercise helping or going to a glamorous recovery center or vacation, stepping out of the lime light… that’s all well and fine, but the rest of us may not be able to afford such luxuries. A lot of us are low income trying to afford our meds and feed our families, so taking an extended vacation or focusing on ourselves might not be an option. I sort of hate how it draws attention to the issue, both glamorizing it and making it seem like a short break with make it manageable or fix it.” — Gretchen M.

23. “Sometimes I feel like it ends up getting romanticized by fame. It’s mentioned but never deconstructed. They just disappear then pretend to be better. Mental health isn’t fixed overnight.” — Sam C.

What do you think?

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5 Ways to Turn Sympathetic Statements Into Empathetic Ones

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“Sympathy” and “empathy” are two words so often used interchangeably that it’s rare to find two people who agree on exactly what the difference is.

The way I see it, sympathy is “feeling for,” and empathy is “feeling with.” Put another way, sympathy is telling someone you care, while empathy is showing it. At Crisis Text Line, we like to think we’re in the empathy business, and value empathy as a skill — it’s the key tenet of our Crisis Counselor training, which prepares our volunteers to work with people in crisis via text message.

We recognize everyone’s experience is different. It’s impossible for any one person to know exactly what another is feeling, because they’ll never be in precisely the same set of circumstances.

That’s why we don’t think of empathy in terms of sharing a person’s experience, we think of it as actively listening and genuinely trying to understand that experience to reflect back what it might feel like.

There are many ways you might be practicing sympathy in your life that can easily be turned into more meaningful and powerful acts of empathy.

1. Hold back on the advice.

The instinct to give advice is totally natural, but that’s often not what people are looking for. Bits of (sometimes terrible) advice are a dime-a-dozen, but thoughtful listening is rare. Instead of offering a friend unsolicited advice, try asking what they think they should do.

Example: “You know yourself best. What do you think would be most helpful to you right now?”

2. Avoid showing pity.

There are few things that make a person feel smaller than the sense that they’re being pitied. Replace expressions of pity (anything along the lines of “You poor thing”) with identifications of the person’s strengths.

Example: “You’re showing so much self-awareness in this situation. It’s really admirable. Thanks for being brave enough to come to me with this.”

3. Don’t assume you know the whole story.

When someone is telling you about their experience, it’s easy to believe you know exactly how they feel. Again, it’s impossible to know exactly how someone is feeling. Replace “I know you feel…” with more tentative statements like, “It sounds like you’re feeling…”

Example: “It seems like all this has left you feeling embarrassed, is that right?”

4. Validate difficult emotions.

Expressing painful emotions is never easy, and can leave someone feeling vulnerable. You can help mitigate the fear around it by validating the way someone is feeling, and letting them know it’s OK to not be OK.

Example: “It makes perfect sense that you’re feeling frustrated right now.”

5. Ask questions.

When someone’s struggling, showing a real interest in what they’re saying goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to come right out and ask questions that allow them to further explain how they’re feeling. The caveat is to avoid “curiosity questions,” or questions that seek details, but don’t do anything but feed into your own desire to know more. Another type of question to avoid is the “why” question, which can sound judgmental, even when it’s not meant to be. Try rewording “why” questions into “how” questions to make them more effective.

Example: “How were you feeling when this first happened?”

Turning your sympathy into empathy takes practice, but if you keep these five strategies in mind, you’ll be well on your way to being a more empathetic friend, partner, coworker and family member. Think you might be good at this? Consider becoming a Counselor — apply here!

In a crisis? Text HELLO to 741741 for free, 24/7 support in the US with a trained Crisis Counselor.

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A Letter of Support to Anyone Who Has Felt Worthless

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Hey you, yes you. You are special. You are important. You matter.

This is to every man, woman and child who has ever dealt with mental illness, chronic illness or any trial in your life that left you feeling worthless and like you didn’t matter. I know mental illness, so that’s what I normally choose to write about, but this can go for all of you.

You matter. Any voice in your head that tells you different is bull. You are not your mental illness.

I know it seems like your life is made up of symptoms and doctor appointments and daily fights with your own mind. That’s not all you are.

You are the people you love and those who love you.

You are the quiet rise and fall of your chest as you sleep.

You are the slight smile on your lips that you can’t catch.

You are a part of everything you touch.

You impact the world every day of your life.

You are so much more than your mental illness.

You matter. Don’t ever forget that.

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