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I Want to Hear What Makes You a Mental Health Warrior

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My name is Jasmin and I run the page “A Fight Worth Finishing” on Facebook. The Mighty and I are collaborating to bring you the hashtag campaign #IAmAWarriorBecause.

I want you to use this hashtag and tell me why your depression, anxiety or previous suicide attempt makes you a warrior! You can even create a picture of yourself holding up a sign. Just make sure to use the hashtag! I’m starting this campaign because there is a huge stigma that our mental illnesses make us weak and this is totally untrue. It takes a strong individual to battle such a hard illness. You’re not weak. You’re warriors! Two lucky individuals who use this hashtag will win my self-help book “A Fight Worth Finishing.” It’s all about my experiences with depression, suicide and how I finally made it to recovery.

Xoxo-
Jasmin

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Thinkstock photo via MangoStar_Studio

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The 'Mighty' Way We're Celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month

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When I was tasked to come up with what The Mighty would do for Mental Health Awareness Month this May, to be honest, I went into the brainstorming process pretty cynically. Every month is mental health awareness month for people in the “mental health world,” and I didn’t want to create a campaign just to create a campaign. I was frustrated and wanted to make sure we were bringing something new to the table.

I then quickly realized I didn’t need to create another hashtag… I could actually take advantage of The Mighty’s biggest strength: our voices. The people. I wanted someone with a different perspective, with a different background, to go live on the Mental Health on The Mighty Facebook page every day in May to show how diverse and amazing and real our community is.

That’s what driving our 2017 Mental Health Awareness Month campaign: 31 Days of Voices.

text reads: The Mighty presents, 31 days of voices. graphic is bordered by pictures of people

Every Monday this month, we’ll post a weekly schedule so you know who’s on the lineup and what topics they’ll be covering. Then, you’ll be able to listen as each person tells their story and ask any questions you have about their triumphs and struggles and how they relate to your own. We’re trying to represent as much diversity and as many perspectives as we can this month, so if by May 31st you don’t see a perspective that represents your own, let us know by emailing [email protected], and we’ll do better next year. Actually — why wait that long? We’ll do better next month. The mental health community isn’t homogenous in race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or in our relationships to our mental illnesses — so our campaigns shouldn’t be either. 

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month, and thanks for choosing to spend it with us.

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To My Boyfriend Who Is My Rock Through My Mental Illness

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I believe anybody is extremely lucky if their partner is also their best friend, but I also believe it takes a special person to be a rock to someone with a mental illness.

To my boyfriend:

You are patient, you are understanding, you are kind, you are considerate, you are amazing and I couldn’t do this without you.

You know me better than I know myself sometimes and you constantly pick me up and tell me how proud you are of me for fighting this everyday and reassuring me when I am feeling worthless.

You stick by my side even when I am snappy and unreasonable and lose my temper for silly reasons.

You support me in my decision-making when I am being indecisive by helping me lay out all my options and making it easier for me to come to a decision because you know I find it difficult. When I have finally come to an outcome, you back me 100 percent and reassure me constantly when I am doubting myself.

You are there with me when I have to go to appointments no matter what, even if it means you missing out on something for yourself. You always put me first and do everything you can to make life that little bit easier for me and be there so I never have to face anything on my own.

You try your hardest to understand me because you know how real the worry is inside my head. You try and put yourself in my shoes and understand the way I am feeling in order to get a better understanding.

You never say I am being dramatic. You simply point out the obvious when my mind is too foggy to see it myself.

You can sense when I am becoming anxious and do everything you can to get me out of that situation or help as much as you can to make me feel comfortable again.

You never question my reasoning, you understand sometimes there isn’t always a particular reason why I am feeling anxious, but you never question its validity.

I don’t tell you enough how much I appreciate all you do for me because I can be too wrapped up inside my own mind to acknowledge it. You give me so much support without expecting anything back, but most importantly — and the reason why I love you so much — is that you don’t see me any less of a person since you found out I have a mental illness. You have been by my side all the way, putting me first when most people would have run away.

These are the reasons why you are my special person. You are my rock.

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Photo via contributor.

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Here's to the Mental Health Recovery Warriors

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Here’s to the recovery warriors — the ones whose scars are more than skin deep, or maybe not visible at all. The ones who fight like hell against a seemingly invisible illness. The ones whose family and friends may not believe anything is even wrong. Sometimes they don’t get it. They might say you’re being “too emotional” or “too dramatic,” and then you might feel completely invalidated and fall deeper into the hole. To the ones who don’t feel like warriors at all (I think that’s nearly all of us nearly all of the time): you are. You’re stronger than your illness. You’re more than your thoughts and fears and compulsions, more than a diagnosis, more than your darkest moment or hardest day.

Because you continue to fight. You continue every day, even when it seems pointless. Even when that voice in your head is screaming at you to just give in, to quit, that you’re not good enough, not strong enough to fight. You continue to fight even on the days when you can barely see a future past the next unbearably painful 60 seconds. There are days when nobody is there to help you up when you’ve fallen down, so you stay there on the floor until you’ve found the strength to call out for help or stand up yourself. There are days when you don’t recognize yourself because who the hell is this shell of a person who is numb and empty of everything except your demons? There are days where it feels impossible, where your mere existence is excruciating and every cell in your body screams for some sort of relief. There are days when you can’t get out of bed. People may call you lazy or overdramatic or ridiculous but you know getting out of bed for you would be impossible. And on all of these days and every day in between, your struggle is completely valid and your fight is just as courageous.

Here’s to the ones who live with a stigma, who get treated like they’re “crazy” for taking medications — as if my Zoloft isn’t every bit as life-saving. The ones who hide their illnesses and their symptoms behind a smile, who have gotten so convincing at saying “I’m fine,” and “Oh, I’m just tired,” and “let’s talk about you, what have you been up to?”

Here’s to the ones who make excuses for why they can’t attend social events because being swamped with work or having a family emergency is more accepted than being mentally ill. Here’s to the ones who put on an act in public and then go home and have a panic attack — shaking and clutching your bedframe while you gasp for air, alone in the dark. The ones who build others up and shine their light to make sure nobody feels as scared and unworthy and beaten down as they do.

You all are fighters. You may deny it; you may think you’re losing the battle or simply wallowing in self-pity, but you are a warrior. Every morning you wake up and step onto the battlefield, not knowing what adversary you will face today, not knowing how difficult they will be to defeat. And you do this all while being sick. Probably on insufficient sleep, likely plagued with doubts and voices around you calling you pathetic and weak. Hell, that is anything but weak.

Nobody can promise you tomorrow will be easier, but you will be stronger and better equipped to meet it. And you can be sure this war is not going to last forever. You may not see it while you’re crouched in the trenches, trying to see through the dark. You may not believe it when you’re trudging through the muddy turf, beaten down by rain. But one day you are going to wake up and your burden will be just a little bit lighter. One day a tiny bit more sunshine will peek through and illuminate your soul. One day you’ll see exactly why all your fighting was so worth it and you’ll see the beauty recovery brings.

It’s one of those things you have to do blindly. It requires so much trust in yourself, your treatment team, your support system and even the world around you. Some days the only thing moving you forward will be telling yourself to put one foot in front of the other and bravely meet each moment and all it brings.

You can do it, warrior. Fight on.

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Unsplash photo via Sebastian Unrau

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How I Learned Asking for Help Makes You Strong, Not Weak

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“I think you should see a counselor.”

These are the seven words I never thought I would hear in my lifetime. “Counselor?” I thought. “Only ‘crazy’ people go see counselors and I am not crazy.”

Barely able to function, and after many thousands of dollars I didn’t have spent on medical exams telling me that I am “just fine” and “very healthy,” I begrudgingly made my way to a counseling office where I ended up terminating after a few weeks. I thought it was a total waste of time to sit in a stranger’s office and talk. I needed to get better as soon as possible. I had goals I needed to meet. Pronto.

After termination, however, I just kept getting worse and worse — fatigue, headaches, nausea, memory loss, muscle weakness.  Not wanting to do anything or see anyone. Feeling so heavy I could barely get out of bed. Not being able to walk a few blocks with my mom before feeling like I wanted to collapse. I wish I was exaggerating, but this is the point to which I still refused to seek help. I would say it was over a year before I recovered from that depressive episode. If I had gotten the mental health assistance I needed sooner, I most likely would have gotten better much quicker and I would have felt so much less alone than I did.

Looking back, I think a lot of it had to do with not wanting to feel “weak.” I’ve never been one to like asking for help. Asking for help has always made me feel like I’m incapable. To share my weaknesses with a complete stranger too? Counseling sounded terrifying to me at the time. I’ve learned now that asking for help when you need it is actually a sign of strength. It can be scary to ask for help, but I’m learning to do it more, and wishing I did more of it in my past. Especially during that darker season of my life.

If you’re struggling with anxiety and depression, seek help! It can feel scary and unknown if it’s your first time going to counseling, and your reasons for not going might be different than mine, but I can tell you from my new experiences in counseling that it’s been a game-changer for me in healing, growing and changing closer to the person who I feel I was meant to be.

Recognizing you’re going through something hard and needing some extra support is brave. It’s strength and you’re worth fighting for. You don’t have to do it alone like I tried to do. We weren’t meant to do it alone.

Seek the help you need and live the life you were created to live, or should I say, thrive.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Adkasai

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Why It's Important to Share the Details in Depression and OCD

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

I started writing a blog post about depression and mental illness but I stopped because it was the same thing you see in every other article that addresses mental health challenges.

I started with the same old things: it’s not the person’s fault, they don’t choose it, we need to understand brain chemistry, blah blah blah.

But I’m tired of those articles.

I’m tired of people not getting it. I do understand completely and totally that if someone has never lived with a mental illness, then they can’t understand the complexity of having such a disorder and they can’t understand the true feelings, in the same way that at this point in my life I cannot understand what it must be like to live with a physical disability.

But I have empathy. And I understand that, while I might not know what it’s like to have them, anyone who lives with a physical disability obviously has a certain number of challenges centered around it.

I am tired of telling people over and over (and over) about how mental illness isn’t a choice. I am so, so tired of trying to explain to people that it’s about the way the brain develops throughout childhood, and the brain’s ability to adapt to its stimuli, which is both a good and bad thing.

I am tired of trying to explain to people that having a mental illness is nobody’s fault, and it doesn’t mean anyone has failed the person, or that the person has failed themselves.

I am tired of explaining to people that mental illness does not and cannot equate to weakness.

And I am damn tired of people not understanding the need for self-care and sick days for their mental health.

So, I won’t talk about that. Instead, I’ll talk about what it feels like.

Sometimes, on bad days, it feels like smothering. It feels like huge black clouds rolling in overhead, particularly in the sense that the clouds are all the eye can see. There’s no way out until the storm passes.

I wrote a poem last night which I won’t post, but in it I talked about being trapped, suspended in a huge jungle of vines and feeling like the vines held me hostage. For me, anxiety can be compared to the paralyzing fear of being choked to death by the vines, trying desperately to wriggle my way out of them. The depression is when I finally give up and the vines cause sensory deprivation. I want to feel, but I just need to wait until the vines let my feet touch back on the ground.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), on the other hand, feels like needing there to be an exact number of vines in order for me to be safe. In the real world, OCD is me not being able to get out of the car if the hour is X:39. I need to wait until it changes to 40 because 39 is a “bad” number. It’s the fact that, if I like an Instagram post and my “like” turns the number over into a new number that’s divisible by ten (for example, if I liked a post and it went from 569 to 570), then I have to scroll through and find two more numbers like that to change. I can’t put my phone down and I can’t like any of the posts in-between until I change two more posts from X9 to X0.

It’s also needing to get in and out of the bed on the same side because otherwise, I’ll have a terrible day. It’s sometimes wanting to chop off my long, brown hair because of the way it feels on my collarbones. It’s needing to do things in a certain order, like, which dishes to wash first, to ensure my safety or the safety of those I love. It’s not being able to have the side of my quilt with the little orange tag on my upper body because it foreshadows my impending doom. It’s needing to bring a block of wood with me across the ocean for a school trip because I was afraid the hotel rooms wouldn’t have real wooden furniture.

Nobody can tell me I “made up my OCD for attention” because most people probably (definitely) don’t know the extent of my thoughts. I hide it very, very well, and when I can’t, I pass off these obsessions and compulsions as “quirks” and “superstitions.” You don’t see the wars that go on inside my head. If I come to your house, you don’t see me subtly knocking on the wooden banister of the patio on my way in or see me knocking on the wooden frame of your bathroom door. You don’t notice me counting the number of buttons on your remote to make sure there’s not a prime number. You don’t think about the fact that I take a slightly different path than you around the cars when leaving the house. Despite no one knowing, my mind is constantly reeling from all of the things I have to think about to ensure my safety. Sure, I have it way more under control now than I used to, but it’s never going to just “go away.” It’s always going to be a part of me.

Sometimes it’s worse than others. When I’m not too stressed out, these little rituals I have seem much less dire if I don’t do them, and I even sometimes purposely don’t perform them (yay me). But, if I’m in a period of high stress, they are out in full force and I am trying desperately to make the stress go away by doing whatever I can, including nonsensical and irrational rituals like putting my right leg out of the shower first.

With all this material written, the question is, why did I just use 947 words to tell you all about what it’s like inside my head?

Well, firstly, it’s because I feel it’s better to be transparent, and now perhaps people who know me well will be able to see that dealing with a certain set of symptoms doesn’t make me any different. I’m still funny, hypersensitive Dan who likes to drink Jack Daniel’s and reads Leo Tolstoy and F. Scott Fitzgerald and watches WWE with her friends.

Secondly, it’s because I’ve had enough of the surface conversations about mental illness. It is my opinion that we need to do more than simply outline the societal implications of mental health challenges. Those things, like knowing that it’s not someone’s fault that they live with mental illness, should be obvious and should now be readily accepted amongst the general public.

However, those things are not yet readily accepted, and it would seem that being preachy about it isn’t working. I decided to share a snapshot of my story because I believe the only way to beat the stigma is by digging deep and having the hard conversations. We need to start speaking up and we need to start laying all of our experiences out on the table. It’s not enough to talk about eliminating the stigma and why we should; we need to start opening the cavern of secrets that we all hold within us and exposing them to the light. We need to share that we are strong, capable and smart, even though our brains don’t make enough serotonin. We need to demonstrate that the “abnormal” electrical currents in some of our brains don’t make us any less awesome. If we don’t talk about our stories, nothing will change. We need to be vocal about the fact that we are all “one of those people.” We need to make it OK for people to talk about their mental illness, and we can do that by being honest.

I was honest today because I hope someone who reads it will say, “wow, I didn’t know that about OCD.” Maybe I can change somebody’s mind. Or, maybe my story will inspire someone else to open up and put their stories out there for all to see.

The reality is, this is my life. I think I’m doing pretty well. Sure, I still have to make sure I put my pajama shirt on before my pajama pants, but, even still, I’ve got lots for which to be grateful. Mental illness doesn’t have to negatively affect our quality of life and it certainly doesn’t mean we’re any less capable of doing great things. Living with any set of symptoms just means that’s your lot in life; we’re all dealing with something.

It’s more than OK to live with mental health challenges and I encourage you to open up to those around you, not only about the fact that you have depression/anxiety/OCD/bipolar disorder/schizophrenia, but also about what that means for you. It’s the best way to make others understand that mental illness doesn’t have to be scary, and more than that — it’s a great way for you to see just how much of an impact you can have on the world around you.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via J Scott Rakozy

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