What I Hear When You Tell Me to 'Stop Being So Negative'

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This is a common sentence many of us with mental illnesses get told.

“Just focus on something else.”

“There’s so much good in the world, stop focusing on the bad.”

You don’t think I have tried? For much of my life I have dealt with anxiety and depression. This means almost all the time I am either over-catastrophizing, staying on alert for the next bad thing that could happen, overanalyzing every mistake I’ve made, and after all that, getting stuck in a head space that constantly tells me I’m not good enough and never will be. This head space in the past has often led me to periods of self-harm and suicidal thoughts that never get acted upon but are always there in the back of my mind.

This never stops.

When a person tells me, “stop being so negative” it feels like a slap to the face. Basically you’re saying, “You can turn it off. You can choose to focus on something else.” While I may have times where I can put my focus into my friendships, my job, my school life and my hobbies, these things are also stressors and end up leading me back to depression and anxiety. Regardless how many good periods of time I have, depression and anxiety are always going to be there.

So next time you see a person or are talking with them and they are having a difficult time with their depression and anxiety and seem to be focused on the negative to you, don’t just say, “Stop focusing on the negative,” but instead, maybe ask what you can do to help. Ask what the negative emotions are focused on, suggest helpful distractions or ways of coping. Because “stop being so negative” just makes us feel bad for our depression and anxiety, and that’s honestly the last thing we need when diagnosed with these disorders.

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Thinkstock photo by OcusFocus

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The Pain in Being Loved When You Hate Yourself

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I’ve read so many articles, books, blogs, and journals on how to love someone with depression.

I’ve talked to people who love people with depression and listened to how they know it in no way defines their love for that human.

I’ve watched family members and friends go through phases of depression, be loved through it all, and love while combating it.

I’ve heard stories of my father loving my mother through her postpartum depression and thinking that just made her a stronger mother.

I’ve seen the aftermath of parents, siblings, spouses and kids after someone dies by suicide.

I’ve seen my family and friends love me so hard when I went public with this battle in my head.

I have even recently seen the most amazing man’s heart break because I can’t give him the relationship he longs for and most of all deserves.

My little brother has held and prayed over me for peace as I cry for no reason.

My older brother has never missed a 3-a.m. call from me just to ask a silly question that in the end has so much more hiding behind it. He never resents me for that because that’s what cops do — they listen, protect and provide the comfort and strength when it’s needed.

My parents went through hell watching their daughter wired up to machines in a hospital room to make sure the overdose didn’t cause any damage and then continued to walk through the same hell when I continued lying about being OK.

They love me. They never once told me I was too much.

They never asked for this, but they also never asked that any of it would go away.

The world’s most amazing humans, building me up and letting me know how much they absolutely adore me, constantly surround me. It has always been that way.

Jaimie, surrounded by love, hates herself.

I have very little hate towards anyone else in this world, and it is because I have so much hate for myself.

When I was younger I hated my face (like most 12-year-olds because puberty sucks).
Then in high school I hated my brain because I just wasn’t smart enough to do anything right (besides get into every college I applied to with scholarships, but other than that).

But in college, I hated myself for no reason. I didn’t suck to look at, I was doing well in my classes, I volunteered and worked with campus organizations, and was even an award-winning radio journalist.

But what really made me hate myself is when I met someone who continued to choose to love me.

For months and months he had a way out, and I even tried to force him to take that out more than most.

But he chose to stay.

That made my hate myself the most.

My family is stuck with me because of blood, but they would run if they could, right?

So why the hell is this amazing human staying when I can’t give him a “normal” or remotely healthy relationship?

I knew I loved him from just a month into the relationship, but I didn’t want to say it because then he would be stuck with me in a way. It is easier to leave before that L-word is thrown out.

Now that it is, I love him more, all while hating myself more.

He and my mother talk and share strategies on how to love me through it.

They share strategies I will never understand. They follow maps through my brain; they only know how to navigate by learning each one trial by error.

They see the scars — mental, emotional and physical — and love on.

While I can barely live on, they love on.

What is loving Jaimie like?

I never ask what they love about me because I don’t want to hear it. There is no way I will see it like they do, and it just frustrates me. They give me their all — emotionally, spiritually, financially, and even physically when I can’t handle life myself.

They love a human who hates herself more than anything on this planet.

They continue to support the potential of someone who can’t see the potential or the future for that matter.

They love the world’s best liar who continues to lie every single time anyone says, “How are you?”

They love someone who continues to add to the pain and hate of themselves.

There are such drastic feelings in my life, and I can’t get rid of the feelings or the people who constantly have them.

These people spend their lives constantly saving mine when I don’t want to be saved.

Without fail, they are at my door.

They put a Band-Aid on my wound and continue loving Jaimie.

They will continue loving Jaimie and seeing the beauty in her head.

I just wish I could love Jaimie like that.

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.

Follow this journey on Loving Jaimie.

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When Your Automatic Smiles Hide the Depression Underneath

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I had someone tell me today that they appreciated how I was always smiling. Their day had been difficult and they were cheered by my smiles and laughter. Knowing they meant very well but caught off guard, I nervously laughed and said, “Well, I try.” But their comment stuck with me for the rest of the day. Looking back, what I thought was, “Yes I am always smiling. Because smiling is easier than telling the truth.”

For many people, mental illness means they can’t function during attacks. Mine has never been like that. When my depression or anxiety hits, it is relatively unnoticeable to other people. I smile, laugh, talk and act very normally even if my thoughts are screaming at me. My “autopilot function” is very well-programmed. In fact, I tend to smile more to take the attention away from any small offsetting differences.

Honesty and transparency get hard when mental illness strikes. Even if I want to be honest and open up to people, it’s hard. There are many reasons behind this.

Many times it is because my autopilot function makes me respond certain ways without even considering it. For example, when someone asks how I am, I automatically say I’m good or tired (which is not unusual or someone in school). Anything beyond that takes a lot more brainpower than I usually have in those moments.

Sometimes it feels like nobody understands what you are going through, so why bother. Their lives seem perfect, beautiful and easy, so they probably have no idea what intense anxiety feels like. Yes, I know it’s irrational, but it happens.

Alternatively, I feel like my struggles are small and insignificant compared to the things others are going through. I hate to feel like I’m just whining when other people are going through severe illness or grief. Certainly, they don’t want to hear about something as small as how my brain hates me.

Most often though, it’s because I don’t understand what I’m going through. I can’t explain what an anxiety attack feels like, nor what depression’s lack of feeling causes, and least of all what triggers these episodes. They just happen. It’s like explaining what something tastes like to a person who has never tried said food. You can use some adjectives or compare it to how something else tastes, but in the end, all you can say is “It’s just… good.” They won’t know how it truly tastes until they’ve tasted it themselves. Mental illness can be like that. I don’t understand any of this crap, so how can I make someone else understand?

Smiles are the best mask a person could ever wear. They hide loneliness, grief, fear, doubt and pain better than anything else because they represent happiness. Because obviously someone who is smiling could never be in pain.

Smiles are like diamonds. Genuine ones are virtually unbreakable and can withstand much pressure. However, they are also very rare. Fake ones, made of glass, imitate these precious jewels but are fragile and only a small impact can shatter them. To someone who cannot tell the difference, either makes them happy. But someone who studies gems. just like people, can often tell the difference. Sometimes the glass needs to break.

Look behind the smile. Every person has their own struggles. The best actors hold many secrets. Don’t be afraid to shatter the glass.

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Thinkstock photo via Halfpoint

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With a Mental Illness, My Hard Work Comes From Unexpected Places

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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.

I may not have a 40-hour per week job or be in college, hunkered down and studying for finals, but this does not mean I am not working hard.

My hard work comes at 2 a.m. when my heart is pounding like the base at a David Guetta concert because I panicked mid-sleep. My hard work comes when I am sitting in one of my therapist’s offices or in the office of my dietician and I have to tell them I relapsed with self-harm and the shame I feel for falling to the urges is beyond words. My hard work comes when the voice in my head tempts me with the idea of permanent relief and an idea of how to obtain that flashes through my mind.

My work is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year and will continue for the rest of my life. I do, however, have moments where my hard work pays off. My hard work shows when I have a recovery win, such as finding clothes I like even though my eating disorder tells me I look frumpy and gross. My hard work shows when I get up and go to my paying job, despite my depression blanketing me and reminding me of how scary and painful the world is to me. My hard work shows when I go out on my own and talk to people, even though my anxiety tells me no one likes me and I am an annoyance to all those I am around. My hard work shows when I choose to live another day despite all the battles I am fighting and all the pain I feel.

I work my ass off; it just might not be in a way you would expect.

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

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

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Unsplash photo via Chelsea Francis

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When You Can't Escape Depression by Sleeping

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I am a sleeper; when I feel stressed I sleep, when I feel overwhelmed I sleep, when I want to relax I sleep, when I feel lost or when I feel the world is too loud, I sleep. It’s no wonder I love my bed; it’s the place you will most often find me, hiding from the real world or just sleeping.

I’m aware this sounds like the opener to a speech on white middle-class privilege and the implications of that weigh as heavily on me as the thick duvet in which I wrap myself to sleep in.

But something has happened to my sleep. It hasn’t left me as such — I am not experiencing the overwhelming insomnia so many people live with. I can’t say it’s worse than not being able to sleep but I can attest to the fact it’s just as tiring.

Every night I suffer, and I don’t use that term lightly, from terrible dreams. Lucid, fierce and frightening dreams; dreams so realistic I am not even sure they classify as dreaming. I spend my days trying to sort out the real from the unreal and it exhausts me — it renders me incapable of concentrating on anything else.

I’ve come to hate going to sleep and consequently I feel like I have no escape.

I’ve been here before. I remember this place with a certain kind of trusted familiarity. It’s recognizable to me like the pillows on my bed or the fetal position I assume when it descends.

It doesn’t start at a certain time. It’s not hooked to a certain event. It’s not caused by something I do or don’t do and it’s no fault of the people around me. Like a cell that divides in the body, it happens without awareness, without heralding, seemingly without care.

And before long I am plastered in it like a thick, sticky suit of misery which does nothing to protect me but everything to expose me. And I don’t have the strength to think about picking it off.

I don’t consciously feel myself falling but at the bottom, I know a few things that happen for sure.

I try to write but I feel like I am in treacle and the effort of getting my fingers to make contact with the keyboard is exhausting. I try to communicate with people but that damn treacle stops me getting close and when people talk to me they need to do it through that filter of gunk which distorts everything they say.

Surely it’s the filter of treacle that makes everyone sound like they couldn’t be bothered talking to me, surely it’s this that leads to my paranoia. But I can’t know for sure because maybe it’s not paranoia — maybe I have managed to push everyone away.

The “xxx” I usually end a text on my phone autocorrect to Xanax. Even my iPhone wants an out.

I cannot remember anything. The simplest details evade me and I feel like I have lost my mind.

I can’t read. I have unopened unread books next to my bed. I can vaguely remember a time that would excite me. Now the thought of reading so many words is actually frightening and alien to me.

I walk slowly, my steps seem smaller and weaker and I hate people who walk slowly.

I write pleading, angst-filled emails to my psychiatrist and I spend hours trying to find hidden meanings in his short meaningless replies.

My eyes hurt.

The only thing that feels worse than the heaviness is the guilt I have at feeling like this.

And so I try to write my exhaustion and my sadness because writing is the only thing I know how to do.

One day I will sleep again; one day the dreams will leave me and one day I will get the chance to live in the real world again. At least that’s what they tell me.

I can only dream.

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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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Why I Want to Be a 'Therapy Ninja'

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During the first trips I made to a therapist, I wished I had been able to sneak into the office like a ninja. Silently and unseen, I would have arrived at my appointment with the black outfit and sword, ready to take on the challenge of healing.

But getting the right kinds of attention and not making a fuss about anything downbeat were a couple of the reasons I was going “crazy” in the first place.

That’s why responding to someone talking about their counseling can be so difficult. People can start to feel relieved, as I did, or never want their therapy acknowledged because of stigma.

When you’re talking to someone about their counseling, there are some things you should know. Whispers in public might be a giveaway, along with public one-on-one conversations. There’s always a right time for sensitive discussions like that. When in doubt, don’t pry and remain positive.

It sounds strange to encourage being upbeat around people whose treatment involves talking about painful experiences and taking medications no one can pronounce. They are tools that can fight the combination of heredity and environment that can beat up on people’s spirits.

If you’re someone like me — depressive with anxiety issues that pop up through obsessive thinking — the sheer volume of everyday life can be overwhelming. I used to cringe when I heard myself described as sensitive. Fingernails scraping on blackboards, loud sirens and yapping dogs don’t bother me, yet I have a lot difficulty not getting bogged down around other people’s bad moods. What’s worse is hearing how positively awesome some people’s lives are and then being asked how mine is.

No wonder I wanted to be a ninja. They come and go as they please and don’t get delayed with chatter about how everyone else is doing in the professional assassin business.

If someone going through therapy does choose to open up, “hope you feel better” is a safe choice around people feeling emotionally bruised and wanting to hide. So is “I hope it’s helping.”

It used to be that going into rehab or an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was mysterious because no one talked about addiction and recovery. Now with people becoming more willing to talk about how they have improved with treatment, AA is a household name. When it comes to mental health, we are at a place where substance abuse was not too long ago. The conversation is opening up, and we’re learning stories about mental health can encourage everyone to live healthier lives.

If you still wonder about how to talk about therapy, consider how you might chat with someone who has successfully gone through a rehab program or is sober. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I’ve noticed people are a little more clued in to rehab as opposed to therapy.

Sessions helped me improve, though I still can feel the pull of the old addiction. Ninjas are supposed to be efficient, never making a single mistake while on a mission. But as I’ve learned, the “perfect patient” is a myth, and should be disregarded as much as the view that trips to one’s therapist are less real than trips to any other doctor.

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