I Used to Think Mental Illness Was for 'Weak People'

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A couple of years ago I was absolutely adamant mental illness just didn’t exist. I thought mental illness was made up by “weak people” who wanted an excuse to not work, to not leave the house or to just claim benefits. Ironically at the time, I was struggling with anxiety and depression and didn’t even realize.

Very simply put, I was that person who stops others from talking, the very reason people don’t want to talk about their mental illness.

Where does this even come from?

I personally believe this problem comes down to education — we are taught to look after ourselves physically from a young age by our parents, school and our friends. If we have a cold or a physical pain, we are taught to communicate that from an early age. We are taught that this is OK, and we need to look after ourselves, to give ourselves time to heal. We receive sympathy from people around us. That’s the norm.

Why is it any different with our mental health? If we’re struggling mentally, why are we so embarrassed to discuss it or admit it? Because of a lack of education. I don’t ever remember having any conversations at any point in my life regarding mental health until recently. I’m fairly certain that’s why I was so damn adamant that mental problems can’t be real. “Nobody’s ever told me that before…how can that be true…”

It wasn’t until my girlfriend at the time suggested I was depressed after living with me for six months, I started to consider that maybe mental illnesses weren’t made up. So I did some reading. I educated myself and guess what? I realized actually mental illness is a thing. So that started my journey on becoming better, self-healing. I’m not there yet, and I still find it difficult to open up and talk to people.

And the reason I’m still so scared to talk, is because there are too many people like I used to be. Judging me, watching me and making me feel worse. We need to educate people that mental health is just as important as physical health. The only way we can do this is trying to help stop the stigma attached to it through discussing this, and trying to get as many people as we can to discuss it, so we know it’s OK to talk.

It’s not your fault you have a cold, and it’s not your fault if you struggle with your mental health. Let’s help each other to get better and stop the stigma around talking.

I’m running a Vlog on raising awareness of mental issues especially with men, by sharing my own personal experiences. You can also find me on Twitter @filipoberio.

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Thinkstock photo via kieferpix

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True Friends Are Like Gold Dust in Depression Recovery

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It took me so much strength to admit I needed people to help me. Weeks of counseling and support through long hard days of depression and pain and feeling like I wasn’t worthy of friendship and a place in the world. But I summoned all my courage and sent the message: “I am dreading the week ahead, is anyone around to meet up?”

 I know it doesn’t look like the biggest request in the world, but when you live with a debilitating illness and depression, and can’t get out into the world like you used to, it is a cry of deep need. In those few words, I was admitting my struggle and desperation. I was telling my friends I couldn’t do it alone anymore and I needed them to step in, like they had offered many times before. 

That’s when I realized not all friends are there through thick and thin. Not everyone means it when they say you just have to ask and many don’t really understand how hard life can be. Some people can’t deal with the reality of illness and depression and others don’t want to enter into the reality for those of us who aren’t what we used to be.

But on the other hand, when I needed them the most is when I discovered who my real friends are. The ones who had to work but sent messages saying hi every few hours, those who sent a joke or funny picture knowing it would make me smile. The friends who put a date in my diary at the first opportunity they had and the ones who congratulated me on being brave and asking for help. These friends are like gold dust, they shimmer through the darkness and brighten the days of pain.

These are the friends who remain on the list of people I can ask — the ones who this week especially, I am so thankful for.

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Thinkstock photo via VOLHA RAMANCHUK.

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When You Struggle With Knowing if You Are 'Fully Recovered' Yet

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When I have a cold, it’s obvious I’m sick. And when it goes away, it’s obvious it’s gone.

When I have depression, it’s not obvious to anyone – even me sometimes. And when it goes away, how am I going to know? Before I fell apart, was I depressed then? In hindsight, probably. I just didn’t recognize it.

It was clear as a summer’s day when my depression hit rock bottom. I was fatigued, despondent, without hope, alienated, withdrawn, fragile, anxious, starving myself, self-harming and lacking self-care. I am not in that place any more, something for which I am eternally grateful.

But it is a long road from rock bottom to “fully recovered.” I don’t know what fully recovered looks like and I actually have no idea how far I’ve travelled down the road.

Some days I still feel fatigue – not as much as I used to, but still more than I should. I have occasional days of feeling despondent and hopeless, but it is no longer relentless and perpetual.

I don’t feel alienated and withdrawn. I reached out and continue to do so. I am writing, talking and sharing as much as I can. Even when I can’t bear to do it. 

I still feel incredibly fragile and anxious. The slightest error or conflict and I’m panicking, teary and wanting to run away, hide under a rock and never emerge. I want to feel more resilient and emotionally stronger.

So at what point can I say I’m no longer depressed? When am I “recovered” from depression? Is it when I stop medication and feel no different? Is it when I no longer experience anxiety? When I feel stronger? If I overcome my eating disorder? How do I tell?

Perpetual happiness is as unnatural as perpetual sadness. Relentless energy is as unnatural as relentless fatigue. Yet somewhere there is a middle ground of healthy and balanced. And it is that midway point I would like to find.

Recovery – as everyone keeps mentioning – is not linear. It’s a shame. But it’s true.

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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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When My Therapist Challenged Me to Try an Exercise Involving a Childhood Photo

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“I need the thing that happens when your brain shuts off and your heart turns on.” ― Elizabeth Wurtzel, “Prozac Nation”

I got to my appointment early that day — almost an hour early. My favorite playlist hummed through the speakers. All the songs were slow and comforting. I could never really tell if I wanted to smile or cry when I heard them, I just know I was comfortable enough to do both to this playlist. I memorized the license plate of the car in front of me as I sat there unblinking and completely motionless. I imagined the bubble forming above my head, “3CSM320…3CSM320…3CSM320…” over and over again like keys on a typewriter being banged harshly until a ding was heard to indicate the end of each line. Whenever my heart and lungs were not in agreement I would take time and just try to clear my mind and think of the most random thing I could muster. Today my mind was transfixed by the license plate. It was the first thing in front of me that didn’t mean anything and could not be made to make sense. It felt safe. I knew as soon as I walked into that office I would find myself purging all the things that have been digging the dark grooves found below my eyes. I blinked away the numbers and letters much like waving away smoke blown too close to your eyes. The mirror agreed as my eyes watered. Grabbing my bag from the passenger seat, I took a deep breath and opened the car door.

After going through the protocol convincing them of my identity and handing over the co-pay, I sat in the chair next to the magazines that never appeal to anyone so as not to be stolen. The clipboard held the questionnaire that always made me uneasy. It was incredibly sobering to be asked questions like, “Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems? (Circle only one number per line).” Then expose myself when asked if I had been, feeling down, depressed or hopeless… feeling bad about yourself or that you are a failure, or have let yourself or your family down… or, not being able to stop or control worrying. The options were so painfully disconnected: Not at all, several days, more than half the days, nearly every day.

Other clipboards leaned against fidgety knees as pens topped with flowers that had never bloomed and would never die scribbled to fulfill the gluttonous interrogation.

A man walked in and announced, “Everyone here for the session with Dr. Wright, please follow me.”

All but one… Then from the other door, “Angelica Fuentes?” a tiny woman mumbled to a nonexistent audience. My chest rose and fell before I got to my feet and sauntered over to her.

“How are you feeling today?” she asked as she swiveled around to lead me down the hall.

“I’m doing OK.”

I forced a smile even though her back was to me. She opened a door and waved me in. If a couch could be painted to look like leather but made of plastic, this office had it. I sat trying to emulate comfort.

“So I see you’ve been having a hard time lately?” she half inquired, half stated. It was a trick. I knew it well, she wanted me to believe she knew something before I sat down and wanted to make me feel comfortable enough to respond to her observation — the same one deduced by the form I had filled out in the waiting area.

“Yeah, I guess so… I think I just need to talk to someone and I figured you’d be the one because after all, you are the doctor who would know how to un-jumble my brain,” I chuckled nervously. Clearing my throat, I wiped my sweaty palms on my pants and shifted in my seat. Next question, let’s get this over with. I met her gaze for the first time, and it broke me. My eyes watered with the realization that her white coat and clipboard meant it was bad enough for me to find myself in her office. She noticed I was uneasy and put the clipboard down on the desk. Still, every now and then she reached over to jot something down, grabbing that familiar blue pen.

“I notice you smile when you say something upsetting… do you do that often?”

I pursed my lips before letting the words come out, “I guess I try to pretend that what I am saying doesn’t bother me much. I do have a hard time smiling genuinely, if that helps.” I made this contribution thinking it would help speed things along. Then she asked me if I have pictures of myself as a child. I nodded as I scanned my brain for family albums sitting on closet shelves.

Then she dug deeper, “Do you remember if you smiled or not?”

Looking down again I said, “I don’t think so… everyone told me I was a quiet kid so I always looked serious all the time, and as you know, growing up was not filled with the greatest memories.”

In previous sessions, I had mentioned hardships in my childhood such as my parents’ divorce, bullying in school, mom having kidney problems and doing our homework on the swivel chairs of the dialysis clinic, then later she developed cancer… The doctor had broken the news to me years earlier that I have a type of situational depression. That’s the kind of depression one undergoes when someone gets divorced, fired, experiences a death in the family, etc.; she explained that often, people can heal from these situations after a period much like mourning.

Today, she said I might have developed something else. Oh, great.

“It sounds like you are looking for an explanation as to why you feel ‘blue’ and there isn’t anything new or worrisome enough to cause you this discomfort, is this correct?”

Biting the inside of my lip, I nodded, “Sometimes I want to cry and nothing is making me sad. Or I get angry at simple things that shouldn’t be riling me up…It’s almost confusing because I wish there was a reason I felt this way and I just can’t pinpoint it.” I placed my hand to my mouth and breathed deeply.

The chair crept closer and she leaned towards me saying, “It may be upsetting however, not uncommon. It sounds like you are experiencing chronic depression… I know that aside from all the earlier trauma, you have been equipped with the tools necessary to process this type of feeling, but if it persists this way without reason it could very well mean it’s part of your makeup.”

There it was, ladies and gentlemen… it was now literally, “all in my head!” A tear rolled down my cheek. The chair rolled back and she picked up the clipboard again.

“So back to you as a little girl, I think I have an exercise for you to practice. Go home, find one of those photos of yourself as a child, and put it somewhere you will see it often. Every day, do something that would have made that little girl smile. It may sound silly, but as it is you aren’t happy now and from what we’ve discussed you may not have been happy growing up; so do that little girl a favor, make her smile. It may heal you too.”

Taking a deep breath, I got to my feet and thanked her for the idea.

That day, I found the picture. I was about 5 or 6 and I wore a Santa hat and did not make eye contact with the photographer. I was looking off to the side… no smile. Next to the box of photographs there was a box labeled “Scrapbooking stuff.” In it, I found some old postcards and magazine cut outs, a deck of 5X7, multicolored paper, glue sticks and other random craft things. What happened next was a complete miracle. I planned my activity. First, I played some music, I lit some sage, I grabbed a drink, sat on the floor, scattered all the items as far as I could reach, and covered rectangle after rectangle of colored paper with a tiny collage and a short message on the back. I had a pretty good stack of handmade postcards when I was done and applied stamps and addresses of the people closest to me… even if they lived down the street! This was a new “purge” for me. I was sending a little piece of myself to all the people I care about. It really got me thinking… I did it for “little Angie,” and “older Angie” felt good.

It reminded me of a quote I read earlier that week: “When a child gives you a gift, even if it is a rock they just picked up, exude gratitude. It may be the only thing they have to give, and they have chosen to give it to you.” ― Dean Jackson

In that moment I understood that although I didn’t have much to give, I gave myself, as well as the recipients of my handmade postcards, a little something, and in that small gesture lied the comfort that even the slightest distraction had its merit.

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This Is the Reality of Living With Depression

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Let’s get real for a moment.

On Thursday night, I lost my battle of keeping shit at bay. It hit me hard. My mask fell off and broke into pieces. The self-loathing, the disappointment I think I am. The pain and guilt that comes with those. I am a terrible person, my brain tells me. I should not be here, it says. I should just give up and let it all go. Stop causing others pain. Stop disappointing everyone. Just stop.

This is depression. So many people just don’t understand it. Unless you live it, you may have no idea what it’s like. There is no black and white with depression. There is only a lot of gray. You know what the truth and reality of life is, but when you are depressed your brain tells you a lot of lies and sometimes, eventually, you give in and you start believing those lies and they become the truth of your living.

Depression is not sadness. Depression is so much more. Depression is being scared, feeling guilty, self-loathing and a whole lot of emptiness. I am all of these things. I am tired. Not just sleepy, but tired of everything. I have absolutely no motivation and no sense of being any longer. I don’t want to work. I don’t want to be a mom. I don’t want to be a wife. I don’t want to be. I am empty. And all of this makes me feel guilty. I feel guilty for needing a break from living for a while. My kids need me, my husband needs me, my job needs me. So in sets the self-loathing for “disappointing” everyone.

I have spent my entire weekend lying in bed. Trying to distract myself with books, TV shows, social media, anything really to get my mind off everything I am and am not feeling. When I’m not distracted, I’m crying; I’m crying for being this person and not the person I think I should be. I’m crying because the pain of living is too much sometimes. I’m crying because I’m scared. I’m crying because my family is going on without me while I lie in bed and can’t do a damn thing. I’m crying because I feel like I’ve let everyone down.

Today is my son’s birthday and I have to try to make it feel like a great day, even when all I’m feeling inside is pain and emptiness. Today I’m trying to work through this. I’m hoping that by writing this all down, it will help make a difference. It’s Sunday, which means tomorrow I don’t have a choice but to get back to reality. I can’t lie in bed all day and cry. Somehow I have to get back to “normal” and put the mask back on. I have to go back to pretending I am OK and that my life is great. If only it were that easy.

Follow this journey on jessicamoretter.com

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Unsplash photo via Volkan Olmez

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When Depression Is Like a Bubble You Can't Escape

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

For me, depression is just like a bubble I feel around myself all the time — a bubble of darkness and sadness, that only reflects the feeling of “being never good enough.”

It is a bubble that sucked out all hope until the last flickering flame went out. It doesn’t let the light of positivity shine in and there is nothing but loneliness. It made me forget to live and left me with a struggle of survival.

What people around me don’t seem to understand is that I don’t choose the bubble willingly, nor I am residing in it of my own will. My friends may think I am rude by not talking to them. My family may think I prefer my room over them. I don’t know how to explain this to them. They might not understand because for them I am 20 years old with nothing to be worried about. Maybe they are right, but all I know right now is that with each passing day this bubble around me is shrinking, with less space left to breathe in.

Every day is a fight not to end my life by suicide. While friends are planning their lives, I am trying my best to live another day. It’s a war with my own mind, numbing the voices in my head that tells me every second it doesn’t isn’t it, and I should give up already.

I don’t know if I will make it out of this bubble or if I will die in it. Right now, I am not even worried about this. All I am concerned with, for this moment, is to make it out alive.

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Unsplash photo via Milada Vigerova

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