A mom and her daughter walking through a park

Why I Won't Have ‘Mommy Guilt’ About My Mental Health

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Mild anxiety and depression have always been a part of my life. I hid it well in my younger years; coping by using eating disorder behaviors to ease any feelings I didn’t like. I alternated between periods of binging and purging and restriction.

As I got older, I began self-treating in other ways. I would abuse the prescription pain medication that was given to me for a chronic arthritic spinal disease. I abused my anxiety medication by taking whole bottles at a time so I could spend the day in bed.

Being a mom is hard — it brings a new set of additional challenges. Dealing with my mental illness has not been easy, but I’ve learned to give myself grace. It is the only way I can keep going.

My children have been to psychiatric hospital with the sterile white walls to visit mommy. They only knew that mommy was sick and not the reason why. They have visited me in residential treatment where I spent 30 days away from them, getting an accurate diagnosis and trying to find a treatment that allow me to function.

I love my kids. With every hospitalization I have had to deal with the “mommy guilt.” As if there isn’t enough guilt surrounding parenting by itself, I had to learn to tell myself that I was doing what was best for them by helping myself. I told myself that over and over and it took years for me to accept it.

Life is far from perfect now. I’m more stable and my suicidal ideation has dissipated for the most part. I no longer look for ways to hurt myself, but I still have days where depression looms and I want to hide away in bed for the day. I know my children are always watching, so I try with everything in me to push on, if for no other reason than to teach them strength and resilience.

I want them to know that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t want them to stigmatize others or feel stigmatized themselves should they ever have any sort of mental illness. They know I go to therapy, take medication and receive other types of treatments. I’ve talked to them about mommy being sad sometimes and that it’s OK to have down days.

I want them to know that I fought for myself and for them. I fought to be here for the little moments and the big moments. I gave myself enough grace to accept the bad days and embrace the good ones.

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. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Thinkstock photo via Anton Bogodvid

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12 Wonder Women Who Inspire Us to Battle Mental Health Stigma

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As superhero fans (and anyone who enjoys a kick-ass female-led action movie) flock to theaters to see “Wonder Woman,” which has quickly become the best box office debut for a female director ever, we started thinking about the Wonder Women in the mental health community who use their platforms to kick mental health stigma’s ass (and a whole lot more) every day. From celebrities who spread awareness and acceptance, to people who’ve started organizations that lift others up, we’re lucky to have so many female role models who are out and proud about living with mental illnesses. Thanks for leading the way, ladies.

Here are a few of our female mental health heroes. Add yours in the comments below:

1. Kenzie Brenna

Superpower: Proving every body is beautiful and that eating disorder recovery is possible.

Kenzie

Kenzie Brenna is in recovery from body dysmorphic disorder and an eating disorder, and shows her 182,000 followers on Instagram it’s OK to love their bodies — wherever they’re at — by loving hers. She’s also the creator of #celluliteSaturdays, a hashtag that encourages women to show off their cellulite and embrace every part of their body.

Find her on Twitter @kenziebrenna.

2. Imade Nibokum

Superpower: Talking about what it is like being depressed while black.

Imade runs Depressed While Black, a blog that shares mental health stories through an African American lens. She’s working on a book by the same title and talks about how she used to think depression was a “white person’s disease” in a video for Project UROK.

Follow her on Twitter @DepressedWBlack.

3. Demi Lovato

Superpower: Using her platform to give mental health pop star power.

Demi Lovato

The former Disney star and current pop star is one of the loudest celebrity voices in mental health advocacy right now. She never hesitates to open up about living with bipolar disorder and has also recovered from an addiction and an eating disorder. Better yet, she puts her words into action, visiting Capitol Hill to talk about mental health policy, and also giving back to the treatment center that helped her get back on her feet.

You can find her on Twitter @ddlovato.

4. Suzy Favor Hamilton

Superpower: Taking the shame out of hypersexuality.

Suzy Favor Hamilton

Suzy Favor Hamilton is a former Olympian athlete who almost lost everything when she was exposed as living a double life as a Las Vegas escort. When it was discovered that her antidepressants had actually sent her into a state of mania and she was properly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she went on to write a memoir about her experience. Now she works to destigmatize hypersexuality, a symptom of bipolar disorder that’s not often discussed, and sex work in general. 

You can find her on Twitter at @favorhamilton.

5. Dese’Rae L. Stage

Superpower: Helping people who’ve attempted suicide tell their stories.

Dese'rea L Stge

Dese’Rae L. Stage is the founder of Live Through This, a photography project that captures images and stories of people who’ve lived through suicide attempts. She was inspired to start the project when, after her own suicide attempt, she had trouble finding others who shared her experience. Now, she helps suicide attempt survivors tell their stories and find a community.

Find her on Twitter @deseraestage.

6. Dior Vargas

Superpower: Un-whitewashing mental health advocacy.

Dior Vargas

Dior Vargas, a Latina feminist mental health advocate, created the People of Color and Mental Illness Photo Project as a response to the “invisibility of people of color in the media representation of mental illness.” She was named one of the “15 Remarkable Women of Color Who Rocked 2015,” and we couldn’t agree more.

Find her on Twitter @DiorVargas.

7. Halsey

Superpower: Being refreshingly real about mental illness.

Halsey

Halsey has gotten seriously honest about living with bipolar disorder in various interviews. It was hard for her when she first “came out” though, and in an interview about what it was like to come out publicly, she said, “I believe I deserve to chase my dreams and do what I love even though I have a mental illness… the fact that people refuse to be sensitive to that, shows me that we still have a very, very, very long way to go.”

Find her on Twitter @halsey

8. Nancy Lublin

Superpower: Transforming texting into a lifeline.

Nancy

Nancy Lublin is the CEO and founder of Crisis Text Line, an organization that allows people across the United States to access a crisis counselor through texting. The service has processed over nine million messages since launching in August 2013.

Find her on Twitter @nancylublin.

9. Marzi

Superpower: Making introversion cool.

Marzi

You probably know her best in her signature blue dress from the beloved Introvert Comic seriesbut you can occasionally see the super shy illustrator pop up in a selfie, too. Whether she’s talking through cartoons or IRL, Marzi has made a name for herself making relatable comics for introverts. This include tacking issues like anxiety, self-harm and diversity.

Find her on Twitter @IntrovertDoodle.

10. Kameelah M. Rashad

Superpower: Bringing mental health support to the Muslim community.

Kameelah M. Rashad is the founder of the Muslim Wellness Foundation, an organizations with a core mission to reduce stigma associated with mental health, addiction and trauma in the American Muslim community. They’re based in Philadelphia and use dialogue, education and training to get Muslim Americans the mental health support they deserve.

Find her on Twitter @KameelahRashad.

11. Mary Labert

Superpower: Letting people who’ve experienced trauma know they are not alone.

In a recent interview with Cosmopolitan, Mary Lambert opened up about the sexual violence she experienced as a child and how it affects her today. The singer and poet is also a body-positive advocate who lives with bipolar disorder. She uses her experiences to write songs and poetry that let others know they aren’t alone.

Find her on Twitter @marylambertsing.

12. Jennifer Marshall

Superpower: Giving people a stage to tell their stories.

Jennifer Marshall

Jennifer Marshall (who runs the blog Bipolar Mom Life) is also the founder of This Is My Brave, a traveling show that features people who live with different mental health conditions. If you’re interested in going to a show, here’s the schedule. You might even meet Jennifer there!

Find her on Twitter @BipolarMomLife.

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. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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What Happens on My 'Zombie Days' as Someone With Mental Illness

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No amount of medication or treatment can take away my occasional “zombie days,” as I call them.

I wake up and feel completely out of it, like the smallest piece of my subconscious makes me get out of bed and get ready for the day. Staying in bed sounds perfect and I surely don’t rush to get out of bed, but nonetheless I do.

I take whatever array of medications I have on your counter. I hope they kick out the funk, but my mind is completely blank anyway.

I can’t focus on anything, I feel like a robot just going through the motions of the day. My mind is almost a step behind my body movements.

The thought, “Why can’t I call in sick, saying I feel like a zombie today,” crosses my mind on the drive to work. “If only,” I think.

I’m staring at something, knowing it means something or I’m supposed to do something, but nothing is clicking. I only snap out of it when someone comes into the room and I turn my attention to them.

My brain is running on empty, for whatever reason. I have felt this before when things were particularly stressful or overwhelming, but it hasn’t been lately.

My only goal is to make it through the day. I know it’s impossible to shake the feeling, so I just wait out the time until bed.

If more people understood mental illnesses and didn’t find them to be such a negative aspect of one’s life, I believe I wouldn’t have to force myself through so many rough days.

Because of all this stigma, I don’t share information about my mental health with those I work with. I find it would be looked at as a negative. I use my mental illness to help understand the disabled children I work with better and find ways to work with them that others may not be able to. I hope the world will become more accepting as they grow up.

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Photo via Thinkstock.

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The Many Ways Art Has Colored My Recovery and Erased My Shame

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We use my art extensively in my therapy sessions. My therapist locked onto it early on as a tool because whenever we hit on a new issue, I tend to revert to being non-verbal.

My therapist is excellent at working with me in this state. Because we’re dealing with trauma that happened when I was so young, I didn’t have the language to understand it. So I can’t generally use language initially to explain it.

But of course it’s always more helpful if I can find a way to explain the problem to him rather than us playing a long drawn out guessing game. So once he realizes that I’m in this state and that he’s not going to be able to pull me out of it because it’s something I literally can’t say in words, he generally asks me to try and draw it.

This happens partly because I was already in the habit of drawing my feelings to try and avoid acting on them before coming into therapy, but at that point it was purely for myself and I wasn’t really sharing my work with anyone. But I would occasionally, out of sheer frustration, show him a drawing and say, “This. This is what I’m feeling.”

This process has now become a pattern, which I would say has deeply enhanced my therapeutic process and progress. It has also massively improved the depth and quality of my artwork, as I am ever challenged to draw more and more complicated concepts.

For me, sharing my art initially just with friends and family and then more broadly online has also been hugely important in my healing. I have gone from being a person who was so ashamed of my mental health struggles that even my closest friends only knew the absolute surface level stuff, to a person comfortable with sharing everything and anything with anyone who is interested for the purposes of demystification and destigmatization.

Getting from there to here has been a journey, one in which I made a pledge to myself to stop hiding from those close to me and ended up sharing with the whole world.

The communicative ability of art cannot be underestimated in the fight to end mental health stigma. I can express multi-faceted concepts for which I have no words and let those close to me know how I am feeling without having to say it out loud. Also, it has helped me battle and overcome the shame I have always felt about struggling with my mental health and about taking time out of my life to heal. It has helped me learn to be mindful of my own emotions (I never used to know what I was feeling) and through peoples responses to my work, a new language of words to express my feelings as well. The reduction in the shame I used to feel around my struggles is probably the thing I value most about my journey to express myself through making and sharing my art.

I think for an artist, art and drawing can be integral to healing in the same way any artist will tell you art is integral to their life, their existence and their understanding of and interaction with the world. I also don’t think you have to be an artist for art to be helpful both as a tool for self-expression, as a communicative device and for healing.

This piece was originally published on Antiparrot.

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Lead image via contributor

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Penny Redshaw Creates Motivating Giraffe to Illustrate Mental Illness and Connect With Others

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Penny Redshaw, an artist from Australia, wants to help those living with mental illnesses feel less alone. Her Instagram account, Motivating Giraffe, features posts about a giraffe who struggles with mental illness and his pig friend who supports him.

2016 #art #illustration #cartoon #drawing #inspiration #motivation #friendship #love #quotes

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At the time Redshaw started her account, she said she was “quite mentally unwell,” spending most of her time in her bedroom with the lights off and curtains drawn. Redshaw began doodling to pass the time and eventually conceptualized the giraffe account to reconnect with the real world in a way she said she “desperately needed.”

Most of the illustrations are inspired by people in Redshaw’s life — either through things they say to her or things she wishes she could say to them. While some drawings are bright and cheerful, others are somber and sad. “I try not to be disingenuous,” Redshaw said, “in that it’s impossible to make every illustration a hopeful and positive one because nobody feels that way all the time, even cartoon giraffes.”

#art #illustration #cartoon #drawing #inspiration #motivation #quotes #hope #cute #instaart

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While Redshaw says her favorite piece changes about once a week, her current pick is a hopeful piece featuring a quote from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” “I really like the way the artwork came together but the words are the special thing to me,” Redshaw told The Mighty. “I know so many people who are lights and I don’t think they realize it. It’s nice to be told that you are significant and it’s important to be able to say it to others.”

#art #illustration #cartoon #drawing ##inspiration #motivation #quotes #motivationmonday #hope #love #friendship

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Redshaw hopes that those following Motivating Giraffe can see the account’s simple messages for what they are. “You can do this,” she said. “It’s okay to try again tomorrow. I am here for you. We will get through these things together.”

Redshaw also encourages others to use art and other passions as a creative outlet for expression. “If you find something that helps you…try not to listen to those who will say these things are not worth your time or energy,” she added. “The world desperately needs creators and artists and people who can put colors on canvas and say ‘This is me.’”

Not only does Motivating Giraffe inspire others, but as its creator, Redshaw says the account has given her more confidence. “I found my voice in this project, and mostly I try to be the kind of person I hope to meet in others,” Redshaw said. ”This includes hard conversations about mental health but it also includes encouraging strangers who might need it, joking with retail staff who are having a long day and singing along to the happy birthday song to people in restaurants.”

To see more of Redshaw’s work, follow Motivating Giraffe on Instagram.

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5 Reminders for Millennials Struggling With Mental Illness

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There are some pretty harmful judgments surrounding one of the internet’s new favorite topics: millennials. Whether you are part of the “new” millennial crowd or the “old,” it really sucks to be told you are “entitled” and “lazy” — especially when you’re really not.

As someone who is part of the now-infamous “millennial generation,” it can be easy for me to wrongfully apply these stereotypes to my life in regards to my mental illness. So, to my fellow millennials struggling with mental illness, this one’s for you. Here are five reminders for hard mental health days when it can be easy to believe you are exactly what the internet says about you.

1. Asking for help doesn’t make you any less of an adult.

This is a lesson I have to keep relearning over and over again. For some reason, I keep believing that once I don’t need to ask for help, I’ll finally have made it to adulthood. Depression often obscures the reality of things in my life, and allowing someone to help me when I’m struggling gets me out of the cycles of cognitive distortion a lot faster. This happened at work recently, and a kind woman at work walked with me and listened as I cried and told her about the bottled up stress I had been experiencing. I felt a lot better after talking about it. I’m learning in my life, the mark of adulthood is acknowledging when I need help and asking for it.

2. Wanting affordable access to health care doesn’t make you “entitled.”

I believe a young person wanting access to health care is indicative not of entitlement, but of being responsible about health and well-being. After graduating from college, one of the biggest hurdles I faced was getting health care. I struggle with anxiety and depression, so mental health care was a big priority for me. Because of my modest income, I couldn’t afford to pay the premiums insurance companies charged monthly. I needed government assistance through the Affordable Care Act. For me, needing and taking advantage of resources provided by the government doesn’t equal entitlement, it equals being responsible about my mental health recovery. I believe we should encourage young folks who want health care at a cost they can manage.

3. Using technology to aid your mental health recovery doesn’t make you “technology obsessed.”

There are so many amazing apps that aid in mental illness recovery. Whether you struggle with an eating disorder, anxiety or depression, there’s an app out there to help. Some argue that millennials in general use technology more often than we should, and maybe in many cases that is true, but when it comes to recovery, it’s just wise to use the resources readily at your disposal.

4. Taking time off to take care of your mental health doesn’t mean you are “lazy.”

When you struggle with a mental illness, you’re usually working with fewer “spoons” than many of your peers, so it’s only natural that some days you need to take a break. Depending on where you are in your recovery and what genetic and environmental factors are present in your life, taking time off of school or work may be a reality, and that’s OK. You are not “lazy” for prioritizing your well-being.

5. Having a mental illness doesn’t mean you “can’t handle life.”

Oftentimes, we millennials are viewed as being unable to handle the challenges life presents. When you struggle with a mental illness, life can be really difficult — and struggling doesn’t mean you don’t have resiliency skills.

It’s probably also an appropriate time to mention that being proud of yourself for getting through a hard mental health day doesn’t mean you are “expecting a trophy” for your efforts. It’s a good thing to pat yourself on the back for getting through a hard day. I know I’m proud of you.

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

Thinkstock photo via bruniewska

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