Black knitted bear and red and white knitted bear

Figen Murray Creates 'Bears Have Issues Too' Teddy Bears With Mental Illnesses


Figen Murray believes all adults should own a teddy bear. Murray, 56, a mental health counselor from Manchester, England, is the owner of Imperfect Hearts, an online store which sells knitted teddy bears with mental illnesses.

“Anyone of us can suddenly become unwell with a mental health issue and living with this can be a very lonely and isolating place,” Murray told The Mighty. “People often feel very disconnected from the rest of humanity and are often unable to reach out.  We need to talk about this topic more openly.”

To help people feel less alone, Murray knits bears and gives them elaborate backstories relating to mental illness. Murray’s bears cover a variety of conditions, from Isla, who has anxiety, to Lucy, who has problems with hoarding. The stories for these bears – which are compiled in her book “Bears Have Issues Too” – come from Murray’s professional knowledge as a counselor as well as personal experience and requests from customers.

The decision to craft bears comes from Murray’s own experience of mental illness. After being diagnosed with sudden sensory hearing loss, Murray found it hard to continue practicing as a therapist due to her hearing loss. To cope with the grief and depression she was facing, she began taking antidepressants and running three to four times a week.

Running helped manage her symptoms but after developing pain in her hips, Murray was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and was told by her doctor she would have to stop running. Unable to run and having to limit her therapy practice, Murray felt her depression worsen. It was then, she decided to start crafting.

“I often encourage my clients to tap into their creative side, as creativity can bring calmness and balance in an often chaotic inner world,” Murray said. “Taking my own advice, I purchased a range of floral fabrics and ribbon and began making vintage-style decorations in the shape of hearts. The psychological effects were amazing, and as I continued to craft, I felt as though I had mentally turned a corner.”

At her daughter’s urging, Murray began listing her crafts in a Depop store she named “Imperfect Hearts.” When the store received little interest, she set up a stall at a Christmas craft fair with a friend. Nothing sold then either, until her son tweeted a photo of her stall, sharing his mother’s disappointment that no one seemed interested in her crafts. The tweet quickly made its way around the internet and within days “Imperfect Hearts” was sold out.

Moved by the generosity of her customers, Murray began writing personalized notes to go which each bear which then turned into backstories about the stuffed animals. “Each teddy would be given its own story and tackle a common issue faced by adults, with a look into how that issue can progress over time, and the theory behind dealing with it,” she explained.

While her book doesn’t cover every mental illness, she hasn’t ruled out writing a second book. “Each story is about the fragility of humanity,” Murray said. “I’ve had people approach me saying ‘you did not write about insomniac bears!’ and ‘you did not cover gambling [addiction].’ There are lots of other mental health issues I have not yet covered.”

To learn more about Murray’s bears visit Imperfect Hearts.

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Why Teachers' Mental Health Is at Risk


I am starting to lose track of how many education professionals I know who are fighting mental illness. Perhaps “fighting” is not the word, because some of us have come to either accept or embrace it; regardless, the number of people to whom I speak about it is staggering.

Thinking about this, I posted on Facebook looking for input on how mental illness affects people working in education and contributors shared a lot of emotionally heavy stuff.

When I asked if I could share anonymously, they all agreed. One friend in Special Ed shared, “I have struggled with depression since starting to teach 15 years ago. Even though I take medication which certainly does help, I do know that I continue to struggle with the symptoms on a daily basis most of the time due to the position I hold, students I work with and the demands placed on me. I have found there are days where I am overwhelmed and honestly do not want to go to work, but I am able to push myself and do it and generally do feel better once I start my day. I feel like administration lacks awareness of the demands that are placed on the staff and in turn does not care how their mental health is affected by those demands. I continue to work on a healthy home/work balance and use a variety of therapeutic techniques to manage my symptoms.”

Another friend who also works in Special Ed experienced some extreme issues. “I struggled with extreme anxiety my first year teaching from an unsupportive administration. I also experienced exhaustion and hypertension due to a large workload. I was removed from the classroom several times and taken to the local hospital by ambulance.”

When my best friend shared my wonderings, a friend of hers in Special Ed also replied. “I have anxiety and depression. I have it mostly under control with meds and therapy, but some days I have a hard time getting up in the morning and struggle with having the energy to take a shower, brush my teeth, etc. I am extremely sensitive to criticism and think one mistake will get me fired. I have trouble concentrating and sometimes daze off in a fog if I am trying to focus on one task for a long period. I’ve learned there is nothing wrong with taking breaks, but I still feel guilty when taking them or feel like my co-workers judge my every move.”

A second friend of hers shared, “I have generalized anxiety and depression that kind of comes and goes in severity. I have experienced anxiety since I was a child and depression since college. I have worked in special education for 15 years. I have always used all of my sick time (and sometimes even unpaid days) every year. I would say 25 percent would be to actual illness and 75 percent would be mental health days.”

While Special Ed is acknowledged as an extremely stressful teaching assignment, education professionals with mental health issues work from elementary to middle, middle to high, even in higher education; it’s everywhere from the school library to classrooms of any discipline. One friend experienced such harassment from her elementary school principal that she ended up in therapy to treat the resulting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Another friend in a high school setting related, “[I struggled with] Clinical depression … I used to lie at night, looking at the clock, dreading even having to get to up to go to school. Used to debate if I should take a sick day. At school anxiety, whether I would get a shitty coverage or break up a fight. Dealing with adults who had awesome classes because they can’t handle the ‘bad’ ones, but you can, was a backhanded compliment and made things worse.”

Another has an anxiety disorder: “At least for me, it makes you feel like you are trapped in a place and you can’t get out. I used to get panic attacks and I think the worst feeling would be having to try to pull myself together, because the last thing you want is for your students to see you at your low. As educators, I feel as though we are required to be strong for our students and sometimes when anxiety takes over your body, the last thing you want is for your students to see.”

One who taught with me in my building, but went to an “easier” school district later, didn’t find any ease in her new setting. “I had a rough patch for several years before I left teaching. I would randomly go into panic attacks, get sick and miss several days of work. I actually ran out of sick time. My family life was also affected as a result. I wasn’t able to do what I knew I was capable of in the classroom. The students were affected. I felt I was always under scrutiny.” Life was complicated outside of the classroom for her as well, and after a family tragedy, the stress culminated in a nervous breakdown and a three-year hiatus from teaching.

Looking at these educators whose lives are affected, a small fraction of those I know, I started to wonder just how many people in education overall deal with some sort of mental health issue, whether anxiety, depression, bipolar, etc. When I sat down to research this, I found it was hard to find information through something like a simple search. I Googled, because isn’t that where everyone starts? In doing so, I saw that the articles mainly focused on educators recognizing mental health issues in students and the lack of training we have to do so. There were two hits on the first page that yielded something about educators themselves being affected.

Inside Higher Ed offered a story about a professor dealing with anxiety caused by an adjustment disorder, a type of mood disorder. This professor initiated the use of coping mechanisms and took a leave of absence to get to a point where they were comfortable in their career, but they worried about coming out of the mental health closet due to the stigma surrounding mental illness. The second piece in Psychology Today addressed why teachers experience emotional burnout and how it may be able to be prevented or at least decreased in severity. (It also had a comment from someone in the corporate world berating teachers for thinking they have any idea what stress is like, but do not get me started on that.) Nevertheless, neither of these pieces gave me any answers to my question of how many educational professionals are dealing with a mental health issue.

I know my ins and outs in how I deal with my illness on the day to day, and I know how many of my peers deal. I know what triggers and exacerbates issues due to my condition, and many of the triggers and difficulties experienced by my colleagues. I know what can help to lessen a bad day or a breakdown. What I want are numbers, hard and true, to show the world just how many of us in education go about the daily task of educating children and adults while struggling with our own minds. I feel like there is always strength in numbers and knowing how not alone I am, how not alone we are, would help me to feel supported. My tiny little microcosm just is not enough, because I know there must be more of us out there. I also feel like the public may respond better to factual data — logos, as I tell my students, is a powerful persuasive appeal, as opposed to conjecture or small scale anecdotal evidence.

So I kept on searching.

It seems I have peers in a significant amount of England. An article from TES states that roughly 8 in 10 teachers are struggling with mental health issues. “Eighty-four percent of teachers have suffered from mental-health problems at some point over the last two years, the survey of 2,000 teachers reveal.” Scotland, too, is experiencing a bit of a mental health crisis in their school staff; according to another study, “Some 45 percent [of surveyed teachers] said that their mental health was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor,’ and 15 percent reported taking medication because of the stresses of their work.” While these are both relatively current, written in 2016 and 2017 respectively, the British Medical Journal was publishing studies about this very topic in 1978. It seems to me that Great Britain is well ahead of the United States in determining how many of its educators are experiencing a mental illness.

I guess my issue now is to find a means of surveying teachers in the United States about their own mental health struggles and then using the results to come up with some sort of means of addressing what may very well be a mental health crisis in the world of educational professionals. What I know I absolutely cannot do is sit idly by while my profession loses some of its most caring and concerned educators to struggling in silence.

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the educators quoted.

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Standing Up to Stigma This Mental Health Awareness Month


You know what I find outrageous? The fact that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. live with a mental illness, yet it is highly stigmatized and misunderstood as if is is rare. 

As if “just eat already” were the three magic words that can cure anorexia. 

As if one chooses to have a flight or fight response to a seemingly minute problem.

As if anxiety is an excuse to get out of plans last minute.

As if body dysmorphia was a ploy to get more attention.

As if you must have come from a war zone to validate that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis.

As if getting over depression was as easy as “just smile.”

As if a flashback is memory of happier times, and not a trigger for panic and hysteria. 

As if bipolar disorder was as simple as changing your mind often.

As if anorexia is superficial, and doesn’t have deep rooted issues. 

As if hating yourself so much you deprive yourself of food is trendy.

As if you can just bring yourself out of a PTSD episode in the blink of an eye. 

As if self-destructive behavior is fun. 

As if we would choose to battle our own minds day in and day out.

As if mental illness didn’t make getting out of bed some days borderline impossible. 

As if mental illness didn’t cause physical and very real pain.

As if “crazy” was the best word to describe someone who fights their mental illness tooth and nail in order to just live a life that they see come so naturally to others. 

If you are reading this right now or know that someone close to you is struggling — they are drowning. The weight of their mental illness is crushing their soul. If you are reading this right now, know… you are not alone. And you do not need to struggle in silence any more. 

You can’t tell from the outside that I am one of the 1 in 5 people who are living with mental illness. May is Mental Health Awareness Month; this May, I am saying NO to the stigmas. NO to the judgement. NO to the eating disorder. NO to the depression. NO to the anxiety. NO to the PTSD. NO to the body dysmorphia that tries to make me believe lies. NO to the voice in my head that tells me I’m unworthy.

Mental illness isn’t always pretty. Mental illness isn’t trendy. Mental illness can be heavy. It’s dark. It’s burdensome. It’s all encompassing and it dictates one’s life. This May, I am taking back control; I am speaking up. I am telling the world about my daily struggles with mental illness not only to humanize it, but normalize it as well. I hope you will too. 

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Friends at the beach. Text reads: 28 things people with mental illness want to tell their friends, but don't

28 Things People With Mental Illness Want to Tell Their Friends, but Don't


Even with close friends, it can be hard sometimes to articulate what you need. And if you live with a mental health condition, your needs may feel…well, extra “needy.” But your needs are not needy, “too much” or “unreasonable” just because you live with a mental illness — they just might be harder to communicate, especially if your friend doesn’t also experience mental health challenges.

To get a little more honest about what people with mental illnesses want to tell their friends, we asked people in our mental health community to share one thing they wish they could say to their friends, but don’t.

You might be able to relate:

1. “I’m sorry I cancel plans so often. It’s never your fault and I wish I could explain my anxiety and mental illness better, but it feels like I am just giving you the same excuses, over and over again.”

2. “I don’t know how to ask for help. I don’t always know what I need or why I am triggered. Please be patient and keep being my friend in little ways: a cup of coffee, vacuuming… just watching a silly TV show with me. It is in these little ways I get what I need, not grand gestures and platitudes.”

3. “Sometimes with my depression, I don’t want to make plans with someone because I want to be alone. It’s really not your fault, it’s me. On the other hand, please try your best to encourage me to make plans because when I’m alone, my anxiety gets the best of me.”

4. “Mental illness is exhausting! This is a situation not of my own making. And it’s not something I can just walk away from. I can’t just think positively and have it all disappear. I fear I will never feel like myself again, and I miss me. But I am trying. I struggle every hour of every day.”

5. “My borderline personality disorder isn’t a simple matter of getting mad now and then or getting bothered when I’m alone like everyone does. It’s a mental illness that evokes intense symptoms. When I open up about my struggles, please don’t minimize them. Sometimes I will actually tell [friends] this because I’m often met with minimization or comments such as, ‘I get mad too, doesn’t everyone have this?!’ or ‘Oh my gosh I think I have it too!’ It’s extremely disrespectful. It seems people don’t take the time to understand the reality of my mental illnesses.”

6. “I’m still the same awesome person I always am, I’m just dealing with a lot of issues, but I’m still worthy of love and kindness.”

7. “There is so much you don’t see. From the outside it all seems so easy, but it’s not. Every day is a struggle for me and small tasks like showering or brushing my teeth sometimes zap all of my energy. I cry a lot. I break down a lot. For every happy time we have together, there are hours of solitude and sadness and flashbacks and rehashing all of the traumas that made me who I am today. It can be devastating.”

8. “I promise I care about your problems, too. Sometimes, though, I’m fighting so hard just to keep my head straight, I don’t have the strength to handle anything else other than existing. I’m ignoring everything else because it is taking all my focus right now to breathe. I’ll try to make it up to you when I’ve pulled myself together, I swear.”.

9. “In the times when I don’t reach out to you, that’s probably when I need you the most. My mental illness has convinced me I’m not worthy of help and care, so I retreat. You showing care and kindness can help me see what my mind is telling me isn’t true. That there are people who care. That I’m worthwhile. Sometimes all it takes is a text message.”

10. “I’m not avoiding you, I promise. I work all day pretending to be someone I’m not, and at the end of the day, I feel like if I even try to hang out or have a conversation, I’m going to be an utter disappointment to you.”

11. “There is so much more to my mental illness than what I tell you because I’m terrified you won’t be able to cope with me — I know I can’t a lot of the time — and I will lose you. It hurts to keep everyone at arm’s length, to not feel able to open up about what I’m going through — but that pain is less than the agony of losing people I care about, which has happened so many times throughout my life, when they can’t deal with the full extent of my mental illness.”

12. “I don’t mean to talk in harsh or negative tones, I don’t mean to sound like I’m talking [down to you]… my anxiety gets so high I speak in my rushed thoughts. My anxiety sometimes prevents me from seeing how I come off to people when I try to speak. I’m not mad, just anxious.”

13. “Don’t keep telling me, ‘It’s going to be fine.’ Don’t ask me, ‘You seem like you’re in a bad mood, are you taking your medications?’ We can have bad days too. I’m not broken, don’t treat me like I am.”

14. “I wish you could understand why I don’t text you first. I wish I could tell you about the noise in my head and why I don’t hear what you say half of the time. I’m sorry it sounds like I’m making excuses. I’m not trying to. I’m sorry I seem to be so focused on myself, that I rarely focus on you. I know I’m not the best friend in the world, but it means so much to me that you’ve stayed. Even if we don’t talk much, I know you’re there, and that makes all the difference.”

15. “Support from friends and family matters a lot! Even if you don’t know what to say, know that reaching out and checking in is a million times better than saying nothing at all. Being honest to friends and family about having a mental illness takes a lot of vulnerability and silence from the people that matter most can be truly devastating. Mental illness tells us that no one cares, but something as simple as a text message that says hi can help to reverse that thinking!”

16. “Every day is a constant struggle to keep moving forward and I truly appreciate how understanding my friends and family are. That you still invite me to things even though a lot of the time I decline, the fact that I’m still invited means more than you will ever know. Also the reason I never RSVP is because I never know up until that day how manageable my mood or anxiety will be.”

17. “Please, let me know you care. Because even though the reality may be otherwise, I fear you don’t. All I ask is for you to be there and comfort me, help me get through it. Even if I say I need to be alone, the opposite may be true. Just let me know you’ll be there and you’ll listen. You don’t have to say anything or try to ‘fix’ me. I just need you to be there for me, whether through a text or a hug, that’s all I ask until I feel like myself again.”

18. “I’m sorry I go quiet instead of talking to you. It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking. It’s just that I feel a mental block sometimes and it’s easier for me to lie in the dark and try to forget about everything.”

19. “I’m sorry for worrying you half to death, it’s not anyone’s fault. I’m just going through so many health issues, I wish I could explain, but I am still the silly random funny person you love, I’m still trying to figure out everything, and I swear I’m really trying my best to get back into the spirit of everything, but it’s going to take some time to get over, I still love everyone.”

20. “I may look confident, happy, strong. I am not. Deep down I’m screaming, pleading for help. I cry myself to sleep every night, and force myself to get up every single morning. Please forgive my rudeness, this is not who I really am, but I’m scared of what could happen if show you what my illness has done to me.”

21. “Having a mental illness weighs me down constantly. I know my friends try to make the environment a better place, but mostly I can’t escape the constant sadness in my head.”

22. “I am good at pretending everything is OK. You will never see the losing battle I deal with each day. Because you will only see me smile and hear my laughter. I’m sorry I upset you when I constantly cancel our plans. Sometimes I’m too anxious to leave the house and even minutes before meeting you, I will cancel with a poor excuse… I know I need and want your company, but sometimes I feel like mine is a burden.”

23. “I appreciate your kindness even if you don’t understand what I’m going through. Please be patient with me! I do care and I do try my best.”

24. “I’m sorry I get so obsessed with certain subjects sometimes, but focusing on one thing, no matter how weird or insignificant, helps me cope not only with the stress of day to day life but also with the constant anxiety my OCD and SAD cause, plus all the symptoms that come with depression.”

25. “Depression and anxiety can hit me out of nowhere mid-sentence or during a good laugh — even when I am with you, seeming happy, energetic and talkative. My illness doesn’t ask; the sadness just takes over no matter where you are and when.”

26. “My mental illnesses are extremely exhausting. I may seem lazy to be napping and tired all the time, but it takes so much energy to fight your own mind every hour of every day while doing all the important things of college life. Just because I take lots of breaks and can’t do everything other people do so easily doesn’t mean I am lazy or careless. It just takes me double the energy to get things done than it does for other people.”

27. “I’m not fragile, I’m not going to break. Stop walking on egg shells around me. The last thing my anxiety and depression needs is to be treated like I have a ‘handle with care’ sticker on me.”

28. “I want to express my gratitude to you. Because without you, I wouldn’t be fighting this hard. Without you, being well and healthy wouldn’t be this exciting. I strive to be balanced because seeing you worrying about me makes me feel awful. I always want to keep this smile on my face because I don’t want to take away that smile on your face; your happiness is my source of strength.”

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With Mental Illness, I Can't Always 'Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway'


My life with mental illness is a series of ups and downs. During the downs, the very act of surviving takes every scrap of energy, courage and strength I can muster. But during the ups, I want to live — and more than that — I want to enjoy life.

The thing is, though, it’s rarely easy.

The phrase, “Feel the fear and do it anyway,” taken from the seminal self-help book of the same name, has become a mantra for encouraging us to grab the bull by the horns and face our anxieties and self-doubts head on. But when you struggle with mental illness, the fear can be so intense, so overwhelming, that “doing it anyway,” simply isn’t an option.

All too often, my self-esteem is so lacking that I just don’t believe I’m capable or worthy of doing whatever it is that I’d really like to do. I’m absolutely certain I’m not good enough, not strong enough, not talented enough, not “well” enough.

Take something simple, like going to church choir practice. I want to go, I really do. But my “messed up” mind starts telling me all the reasons I shouldn’t. What makes you think you’re a good enough singer? It goads me. Everyone will be secretly laughing at you. No one wants you there, they’re just too polite to tell you. You don’t fit in, remember? You’re crazy if you think you could ever be part of this.

Before I know it, I’ve talked myself out of going. But then, I chastise myself. You’re pathetic. What’s the big deal? Everyone else manages to go without having an existential crisis about it.

The result? I end up curled in my bed, lonely, sad, hating myself for my ineptitude, my lack of perseverance, my “weakness.” I curse myself for not being able to do something I really wanted to do. And it feeds the monsters that live in my mind and tell me I’m useless, worthless, good for nothing.

I know I “should” be able to feel the fear and do it anyway, but I can’t. The fear that comes with mental illness is not something that can be overcome by taking a couple of deep breaths and “growing a pair.” It takes on a life of its own, and convinces me this thing I’m facing, whatever it might be, is too much.

Sometimes, I let a friend in. I tell someone how scared I’m feeling, how overwhelmed. But often, their kind and gentle encouragement makes me feel worse. They mean to build me up and give me confidence. They tell me I can do it, tell me I’m strong enough, but I can’t and I’m not, and that adds to the sense of failure.

Occasionally — very occasionally — I do try to face my fears, bolstered by medication that helps suppress the all-consuming sense of terror. And invariably, it’s not as terrifying as I expected. In fact, I gain strength from the fact I did it, even if it was with the support of medication. Those times are few and far between, but they give me a sliver of hope that it won’t always be like this.

For now, though, I have to accept I’m not always able to face my fears. All of my efforts are channelled into keeping my head above the water, and adding extra strain can easily pull me under.

To outsiders, I know it must look as if I’m not trying, as if I’m giving in too easily. Please know I really am trying – but that I have to respect my limits, or I’m in danger of making myself more unwell. Please don’t stop encouraging me, but understand I’m not always going to be able to “man up” or “just get on with it.”

Because when you live with mental illness, it’s not always possible to “feel the fear and do it anyway,” no matter how much you want to.

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A Message for People Battling the 'Evil Twins' of Mental Illness


I want to talk about the “evil twins” of mental illness: guilt and shame. Even though they are so incredibly strong and color our lives so much, they can be defeated.

Shame is a b*tch. It really is. Especially shame for having a mental illness. Why is that something to be ashamed of? Are people ashamed when they break their leg? No. It can happen to anyone, just like mental illness can. Any size, shape, creed, color, background, orientation, social class. It can happen to anyone. If you have a mental illness, there is nothing you did wrong, and there is nothing you did to “earn” or “deserve” it. It just happened. And there is absolutely no shame in that, no matter what society or your demons say. You didn’t choose this, and it isn’t your fault. I promise.

And that leads us to guilt. I find guilt and shame go hand in hand. You will rarely find one without the other. I believe guilt makes us believe we are everything our demons say we are, that this is our fault, that we deserve it. This is not true! We are so much more than what our demons say we are. We are so much more than what our minds may lead us to believe. We are worth so much more. Many of our lives are already not made easy by the presence of mental illness. We can’t give in to what the evil twins want us to believe.

We should not feel shame for being sick. We should not feel guilty for being sick. It is not our fault. We did not choose this. And we do not deserve this. If you hold true to these things, even when it’s dark and lonely and you’re surrounded by screaming demons, I believe you will have a foothold in the climb to recovery. I have faith in you.

I know you didn’t ask for this. I know you don’t deserve this. I know you don’t want to be sick. I don’t either. But I do know you have the inner strength, the endurance, the tenacity and the will to continue forward and reach recovery. You can do it. I can do it. We can, and will do it.

Give shame and guilt the bird. Remind myself of your strength, your beauty and your will to endure, and keep moving. We got this.

Stay strong.

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Thinkstock photo via Alvaro Cabrera jimenez. 

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