3 Things 'To the Bone' Taught Me About Mental Health

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As someone who lives with a mental disorder, the Netflix original movie “To the Bone” caught my attention. Having briefly read that this movie was about self-acceptance and recovery, I wanted to know things that could change the way I deal with my own disorder. I wanted to know what this story could teach me. I wanted to learn. So here are the top three things I learned from the movie that I hope can benefit you, too.

1. Only we can decide how we want to see our lives.

I believe we can choose to see our lives as good or bad. Life is, for sure, scary. It’s full of uncertainties and unpredictabilities, but it is also filled with wonder and joy. Good can be found anywhere and anytime, if only we choose to see it.

2. We can’t change the future, but we can change our behavior towards it.

Bad things will always happen and we can’t always do anything about it, but I believe we can do something about how we deal with our problems. Life will always throw us issues we don’t want to face and I believe it’s up to us whether we want to solve them or let them control our lives.

3. In order for things to change, we first have to want to change.

We are the ones who have to take an initiative to make things different because no one can change us but ourselves. We can’t expect others to do the work for us, we have to fight for our own lives.

Knowing that we can take back our lives if we want to was a very important lesson for me, as sometimes it’s just so easy to want to give up power to my disorder. What “To the Bone” has reminded me is I have to keep on fighting or else I will lose the battle. We all have to keep on fighting and remember we are not alone in this seemingly endless struggle. But I can assure you it does get better as long as you keep on fighting. Just remember we are warriors. We are strong and we are resilient.

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If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

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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Screenshot via Netflix YouTube channel.

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An Echo Off a Mountainside: How Shame Affects Me

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

It feels like an avalanche. That’s what I told my best friend last night. It’s like an avalanche and when it happens, it buries me.

When it happens, it feels as if there, beneath a pile of snow, a piece of myself dies. It feels as if there’s no getting out from under it all. I give up beneath the weight and whatever finally emerges is a colorless ghost of what remains below.

I’m trying not to think in those terms anymore. I told her I really want to try to instead imagine that as soon as the avalanche runs its course, I begin scraping away. Maybe my fingers leave streaks of blood across the white of the snow and ice, but I emerge, whole, ready to keep trudging along and fight my way to the top. Holding tight to all the things that make me who I am, no matter how far away the top always seems.

I’d never described shame in these terms before, mainly because it isn’t something I ever talk about, with her or anyone else. Even in therapy.

My therapist knows it is something I struggle with, but I’ve never shared details about the things that invite that avalanche. The desires and emotions that feel like screams against a snowy, fragile mountainside.

I don’t know how it got to this point. I only know that radical acceptance feels like the only answer.

I support you. I want you to have that. That sounds wonderful for you.

I told my husband once that those are the only words I want to hear. When I share some part of myself with someone, those are the only words I want to hear in return. Anything less, anything different and I’m awash. I’m rolling backwards down that mountainside.

Buried once again.

I’m the girl in a corner somewhere being screamed at, spittle flying because the many ways I’m a disappointment, and a failure, and a slut — can’t even be described in any manner that’s calm. They have to be shouted with a vitriol that’s physical and dripping with disgust.

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Those words, that screaming, never happen in any way in my life now. Nobody treats me that way now.

Except myself.

I climb halfway up a slippery, frozen mountainside just to admit something I desire — something that isn’t what society may say is “normal.” I finally voice it. Not in shouts, but in whispers.

I support you. I want you to have that. That sounds wonderful for you.

If that isn’t the echo that answers my whisper — if those words aren’t on the wind that rolls back in reply — it begins.

An avalanche of shame that buries me anew.

I’m trying to imagine that as soon as the avalanche runs its course, I begin scraping away. And maybe my fingers leave streaks of blood across the white of the snow and ice. But I emerge, whole, ready to keep trudging along and fight my way to the top.

Holding tight to all the things that make me who I am, no matter how far away the top always seems.

I’m trying to keep whispering. No matter what rolls back down the mountainside.

I’m trying.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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Thinkstock photo via konane

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The Magic of Music in a Psychiatric Hospital

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Music is magic.

Some of the most beautiful moments in my admissions to psychiatric hospitals have involved music.

What made me happy was communal sharing of peoples’ music libraries, connected to a portable speaker, in the smoker’s courtyard. It made me ecstatic. My friend, a fellow patient, rapping Vanilla Ice’s, “Ice Ice Baby” with 100 percent accuracy. That sight is the eight wonder of the world, I assure you. Coming into the lounge and hearing blues blaring through the speakers as people tried their best to get through the day. Hearing an elderly patient, Wendy, playing a classical piece on the piano as I drifted down the hallway. Her aged fingers telling a story I knew I’d never fully know or understand.

There are too many moments to mention, but they add up and become a signifier of what helps people ease their struggles. The Dire Straits, Van Morrison, Miles Davis, Ed Sheeran, The Hollies, One Direction, Paul Kelly. Song after song, artist after artist, connected us in ways our words couldn’t. At 7 a.m. bleary eyed and preparing ourselves for another day, we’d sit in silence and someone would pick a song. There’s something beautiful about a group of practical strangers from all walks of life sitting around a phone, cigarettes and mugs in hand just… listening. Nick Cave’s smooth voice filling the air as we waited for another challenging day.

In art therapy, yesterday we spoke about the gap between art and words. The fact that art exists in a space where words can’t reach. That’s the very reason I do art therapy, because sometimes there aren’t any words in our spoken language to explain what you’re feeling or thinking. I think it’s the same with music. A certain string arrangement in Neil Diamond’s “Prologue” makes me feel the intrinsic connection I have to humanity. One note in Bowie’s “Life on Mars” makes my stomach drop so much, it makes me lose my breath. Artists put themselves into their music. Their emotions, thoughts, feelings, the things they couldn’t express in any other way. Sometimes we can all feel so different to each other, so isolated and “other.” But the connection that music brings out in people that says, “You’re not alone, I felt this too,” is life saving.

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The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is it’s the little things. People say life is made up of a lot of little moments and a few big ones. I used to focus on the big ones, the ones that would send my anxiety spiraling into a panic attack. But I get it now. The little ones are so important. Charlie remembering you take decaf instead of regular. Mixing paints so an 80-year-old woman who wants to make art can, despite her painful arthritis. A cigarette handed out to someone struggling, a seat offered to another.

I’ll end this this on what I consider my Biggest Little moments.

In one of my past admissions I’d sometimes sit and smoke with a patient who had nothing. No iPod, no smartphone, no computer and give him his requested song of the day. I’ll never forget the gleeful look fought through his tired eyes as he was able to transport himself back to an easier time just for  or three or four minutes. He’d close his eyes and drift back to his 20-year-old self watching a live Skyhooks gig in a pub with his friends, rather than sitting on the concrete ground of a psych hospital. Time and time again, it was the most humbling experience to witness. Music plays with reality. It enhances it or eradicates it. It takes you somewhere or keeps you in the moment. It’s magic.

Follow this journey on Maddison Gray’s Blog.

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Thinkstock photo via Orla

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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.

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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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When I Spoke Up as a Mental Health Advocate and Got the Most Amazing Response

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Recently I was asked to go a community mental health training since I had signed up to volunteer with a mental health organization. During the training, things kept being said by the participants or leaders that I felt perpetuated stigma or a stereotype about mental illness. I became extremely anxious and angry. I kept raising my hand to respond to things or give a different opinion. Activities triggered me as well. Several times I even shared in front of these strangers about my personal experience with mental illness, since I knew it would be helpful. I felt pretty exposed after sharing but reminded myself it was a safe place to do so.

Leaving the training, I felt overwhelming emotions and anxiety. I decided I needed to write to my contact at the volunteer organization about how I felt. I wrote her a long angry email correcting things said at the training — things I felt perpetuated a stigma or stereotype — and shared my general emotions about the day.

After I clicked “send,” I panicked about how she was going to respond. I’m new as a volunteer and I want her to think well of me. Writing an angry email probably wouldn’t help! At the same time, I keep caring more about being an advocate and speaking out against stigma and stereotypes regarding mental illness. People don’t always like advocates, but it’s important to keep speaking out. So, I think I did the right thing?

Two days later, I was incredibly relieved to see an email from her in my inbox. Finally, I could stop stressing about what she thought of my email. I read,

“Hi [Anna],

Thank you for the time you have spent on this email… it is a treasure — for offering your knowledge, not only for correcting symptoms to describe illnesses, but also for the conviction and passion you feel for how stigmas are perpetuated.

If it’s OK with you, I will pass on your email to the [leaders of the training] for discussion of the material and how it is presented.

I acknowledge that Saturday was a stressful, triggering day, not only for you, but also for others that spoke to me. I, too, felt very sad. The exercise that you participated in was highly emotional for most. I was worried about you. It was courageous of you to give a follow-up of your experience doing the exercise, and I felt eased.

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I look forward to working with you. You will bring all of who you are and that … will be a blessing to others.

B.”

I was amazed by her response. I felt affirmed and validated. I kept repeating the last line to myself: “You will bring all of who you are and that will be a blessing to others.” At the training and in my email to her, I was many things — a prospective volunteer, a person with mental illnesses, a mental health advocate and a counseling student. Often I feel like I am “too much,” but in that moment I felt like I was OK.

After receiving that email, I was strengthened in my resolve to be an advocate, to break stereotypes and stigma. Not everyone will like what I say and how I say it, but responses like hers encourage me to keep speaking up.

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3 Reasons My Mental Illness Is Like a Storm

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I struggle with mental illness and have always been attracted to storms for some reason.

Yes, you read that right.

Storms.

I know it sounds kind of weird, but I feel like I identify with them in a way. Somehow their chaos reflects the chaos in my head. I’m not exactly sure how it started, but I can remember feeling this way ever since my symptoms started appearing. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

I have read countless articles and stories and listened to songs and seen paintings where people use storms to relate to their mental illness, and I can’t help but ask myself, “Why?” Why would so many people, including myself, identify with such a powerful force of nature, and what does it have to do with mental illness? I’ve thought about it for years and have never been able to put it into words, but I’m going to try my best.

So here are just a few reasons why I think people compare their mental illnesses to storms:

1. They’re unpredictable and chaotic.

Mental illness strikes when you least expect it, just like storms. It comes completely out of the blue and turns your skies to grey until all you can see are the negatives. But just as quickly as the storm comes, it leaves again, and you’re left with sun on your face and a light breeze on your skin. You never know what’s going to happen, and that can cause a lot of anxiety. Some get addicted to the unpredictability and the chaos of it all and that’s when recovery becomes difficult. I like people who think like this “storm chasers” because they follow the storm. Some just get so used to stormy weather that they are scared of blue skies, because happiness and stability have become “the unknown.” I am not a stranger to this feeling.

2. The effects can be disastrous and overwhelming.

Storms are incredibly powerful, just like mental illness. It can destroy everything from relationships to the individual themselves and can seem to drown everything good in their lives. Mental illness can often seem out of control, which can be true if the correct treatment isn’t available. It can be catastrophic in some cases and forces you to put your whole life on hold, but things always get better. While it lasts, though, it feels like it is all around you and there is nowhere to hide, and I think storms are similar in a way. They’re out of your control and are all-consuming in the same way that mental illnesses can sometimes feel. It feels as though you are enveloped with emotion and caught in the rain, in a sense, which I believe is why people identify so much with them.

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3. They don’t last forever.

Storms don’t last forever and neither do the effects of mental illnesses. There is always hope and there are always blue skies ahead, you’ve just got to survive the storm. And the more storms you survive, the easier it becomes, because you become better equipped to deal with the rain and the thunder and the lightning the next time.

Just make sure you have the support you need and don’t forget to carry an umbrella.

You’ll be OK.

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