Christina Perry

What Helps Christina Perri Through Depression When Life Feels Like 'Too Much’

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Christina Perri’s first memory of suicidal ideation dates back to when she was just 8 years old — an experience that’s affected the singer-songwriter her entire life. Now, her battles with anxiety, depression and addiction have inspired her to write songs many in these communities consider anthems. At a difficult time in my struggle with an eating disorder, a good friend of mine played me “I Believe,” and it has since become one of my recovery anthems. To me, this song perfectly captures the meeting point of struggle, strength and the feeling of “maybe I actually will be OK.”

Perri, now 30, engaged, and expecting her first child, recently opened up in an interview with The Mighty about therapy, how her parents and fiance handle her mental illness and how, when all else fails, music helps her wade out of the darkness.

On starting therapy as a child:

Like many who struggled with their mental health as children, Perri grew up feeling generally “melancholic and peculiar” but didn’t understand she was struggling with depression and anxiety until she was older. She remembers being “in love with her family” as a child but also feeling a lot of sadness. She also later struggled with addiction.

Her mom recognized there was something amiss while they were picking out an elementary school teacher’s Christmas present. “I remember threatening to kill myself at a department store over something my mom wanted to buy,” Perri told The Mighty. “I wanted to throw myself down the escalators.”

Her mom put her in therapy soon after, and 22 years later, she still goes. “I love therapy. I’m a huge advocate for it,” she said, though admits she wasn’t open about going until she was 17.

On talking to her parents about mental illness:

Though her parents put her in therapy after she expressed suicidal thoughts, Perri said her mom didn’t truly understand her struggle until much later on, and her dad still has a hard time understanding:

My mom was like, “What’s wrong with you?” She didn’t know how to deal with me. My dad is from Italy, and he doesn’t understand American culture still… He’s just like, “Be better, snap out of it.” Both of my parents are so loving and sweet, but they just don’t connect to it.

She and her parents have attended Al-Anon, a support group for family and friends of those struggling with alcoholism. Perri said the language used in the group helped them all communicate about her mental health.

On medication and coping:

Perri took antidepressants between the ages of 10 and 14 but didn’t like how they made her feel. “It made me a little bit numb. I remember not writing and not liking that feeling,” she said. “But when I found writing and music, it made me feel better than any kind of medication I’d tried. It really made me feel better than anything ever. I was like, ‘OK, I can do life.’”

Still, even with this newfound coping mechanism, depression continued. “Life was just so much for me. I didn’t connect with my peers,” Perri recalled. “They were just not having the heaviness that I did, and I just didn’t have a word for it.”

On telling her fiance, Paul, about her mental illnesses: 

I was so nervous for the moment Paul would find out I’m not “normal.” Paul doesn’t have depression, alcoholism or anxiety. I was always ashamed of my mental illnesses my whole life. I realize I’m lucky to be a songwriter… but at the same time it’s engrained in me to be ashamed. But Paul didn’t run. He was so curious and has been the best you could imagine for someone like me. Open and willing to do whatever I need. When I told him he was like, “I love you more.”

Perri said Paul doesn’t try to fix her — instead he acknowledges her struggles, suggests she does something when she’s isolating or sometimes just takes a walk around the block with her — all tools they’ve worked through together.

On recovery and a message to those struggling:

When I told Perri about my personal connection to “I Believe,” she thanked me and shared who inspired her:

I get it. If you need it in that moment, it’s so life-changing. Jason Mraz was that person for me… We all need places to put these things. For me, it’s songwriting. It’s recovery. It’s therapy. These are the things that help me get through my life, but I’m still that 8-year-old girl who walks around with that heaviness.

When asked about what she has to say to those who feel like the struggle against mental illness is too much, she said:

It’s temporary. It’s always temporary. That feeling of free falling is always temporary… Something will happen that will change my perception. It’s the practice of saying, “This is awful, but you will make it through. That’s what saves peoples’ lives.”

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 “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Lead image via Christina Perri Facebook page

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Dear Ballet Community, We Need to Start Talking Openly About Mental Illness

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There’s no artistic, poetic way to relay this thought: it is my experience that the ballet world has a pretty serious problem with the way they treat neurodiverse dancers and dancers with mental illnesses.

The ballet world often treats mental illness much like the rest of the world does — like laziness, like a character flaw, like a lack of will, like a deficiency of spirit. I’m expected to show up, put my body and mind through rigorous hoops day in and day out, do it all exceptionally well, not complain, and not let on that anything other than sunshine might be going on with my health or in my personal lives. That can mentality erase a person’s humanity.

A dancer is usually expected to “leave it all at the door” every single day. Let it all go, so to speak. But mental illness isn’t baggage you can check on your way out of the country for your company’s annual tour. Trauma doesn’t wait politely for you beyond the threshold of the studio while you focus on engaging your inner thighs in rond de jambe. Mental illness and trauma bulldoze their way into every crack of your life without your permission and make it difficult, sometimes impossible, for you to even do the things you love most in the world. But most teachers, artistic directors and choreographers don’t account for that. They, like most ballet dancers, are not-so-subtly taught from a very young age to bury, ignore, and hide whatever they’re going through outside the studio in the name of “sacrifice” for our art, under the guise of “leaving it at the door” — and they expect me to do the same.

There seems to be no room for a ballet dancer to be anything less than positive all the time. I write the possibility off entirely; even if I excel at portraying dark, brooding, tortured characters onstage, it’d be poor form if I were that way offstage, too. But we all have that one dancer in our company or community who is privately, and sometimes even publicly, sullen — the principal that never speaks to anyone, the corps girl who always seems to be tearful. But we always attribute it to a “prickly personality,” or an “incompatibility with company life” — “She’s just that way,” or “he’s just getting adjusted.” We never stop to think that there might be another reason entirely for their behavior or demeanor. That kind of emotional undermining continues for generations, and in doing that, we create a system where we reward people for their ability to ignore their own pain and praise them for their own unkindness to themselves. We make it worse by rewarding those dancers who ignore their own pain the best — we promote them, we uphold them as role models, we revere them for their “toughness” — but all too often, that toughness comes at the expense of wellness.

Of course, I can’t claim this experience to be completely universal, but I’ve talked to enough dancers from enough schools and companies around the world to know that we have a major problem. And I’m not saying we excuse poor behavior. Make no mistake, some people just suck — some people are, in fact, just lazy, whiny, mean, sulking people. But do you really think that anyone who naturally inhabits those personality traits would’ve made it this far in the world of classical ballet? I tend to think not.

So here we stand. With mental health issues on the rise among American adults, reporting that an estimated 1 in 5 Americans lives with a mental illness, statistics alone suggest that we are dancing next to someone (likely more than one person) with a mental illness every day. There’s a good chance that that person is suffering alone, ashamed of themselves — and we don’t know it. As dancers, we have the unique experience of being closely bonded to our company-mates. When you spend nearly your every waking hour together, that tends to happen. Wouldn’t it hurt you to know that someone you care about was hurting, and wouldn’t it hurt even more to know that they felt like they couldn’t tell you?

It’s been so long since the very first time someone told me to “suck it up” that I can’t remember when it was. But I know I was young enough for it to have made a serious impression on my malleable mind. After years of being told it was “all in my head,” being accused of “lacking work ethic,” being praised for my “toughness” when I buried all my feelings, and repeatedly being told to “just meditate and it will go away,” I shame spiraled myself into thinking that I was untalented, unemployable and hopeless. I shut down, just barely grasping at life for several years until I hit rock bottom in 2015 — I stopped dancing. I didn’t leave my house for nine months. I didn’t see my friends. I didn’t go to class. I refused to go to performances. Nine whole months — the time it takes to grow a life is the time it took me to almost lose my own. I drowned in my own head, overwhelmed by anxiety, unraveled by depression. When I came up for air in the late summer and felt my feet back on dry land, I started sharing what I went through with those around me. I had been convinced I was alone, but no sooner did I start sharing my experience did I discover two things: for one, I found out that I was not unique. In private conversations and under promises of keeping confidence, fellow ballet dancers shared that they were hurting too; fearful, struggling, looking for help and resources. The second, and easily more disturbing thing, was that these dancers, who want support and resources to combat what they’re going through, were being met with empty hands and deaf ears everywhere they turned. The treatment they received perpetuated the culture we’ve created in the ballet world — that we are not allowed to suffer, and on that off chance that we do suffer, we must continue on as though nothing hurts. In the long run, that doesn’t serve any of us.

So where do we go from here?

First of all, we need to actually have this conversation:

Dear artistic directors and company managers, tell your dancers you’re here for them. Have a therapist come and speak about signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to recognize them, how to support one another, and what kind of treatment options are available. Reiterate that there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a mental illness. Encourage a mentality of wholeness in your company.

Dear ballet dancers, you’re allowed to suffer without being told to “suck it up.” The truth of your suffering and pain does not negate your talent or drive as a dancer. It merely means that you are human, and that you still deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and kindness.

Follow this journey here.

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 “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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

Lead image via contributor. 

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What It's Like Being a Student Psych Nurse Living With Mental Illness

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When I started my university course, I never dreamed I would be studying myself; my flaws, my habits and my symptoms.

Let me explain. In 2015, I embarked on my journey to become a mental health nurse. I would study for three years as a student nurse, completing seven placements in various healthcare settings, spending 2500 hours working with people of differing mental health conditions, whilst working alongside some of the most experienced nurses, support workers, social workers and consultants in the field. All the while I never imagined that whilst I was looking after and caring for patients, I would also become one myself. However, I would not look after or care for this specific patient.

I decided to study this course due to family history and a general interest in the subject. I had always had a feeling of something more underlying but never allowed myself to overanalyze this, ignoring any issues or thoughts I had.

I had always been a quiet, sensitive child, according to my mum. I’d rather spend my days with her ensuring she was not lonely after my parents split, rather than being outside playing cops and robbers with the other kids.

I always had a growing concern with regards to my mum’s emotional status, as I had been aware of her mental health issues since a young age. It wasn’t until I moved away from home that I became aware I had been hiding behind other people’s issues to avoid my own.

That’s when things really began to go downhill for me. In the September of 2015, I became more and more aware of my low moods, my lack of energy, my irrational outbursts and my general isolation from the world. I put this down to homesickness, the change and the apprehension of a new city, a new group of people, a new life. But what I didn’t realize was that I would not get over this feeling after a few weeks, when I had settled in. As I got further into my course, I began to realize that no one else seemed to be struggling with adjusting like I was, and if they were then they were doing a great job at hiding it.

Some days it would become too much for me to leave my flat, too much to attend lectures, too much to engage in general conversation… And then it became too much to attend placement. That was the last straw. That was when I realized I really ought to be practicing what I preach.

If I was to be working within mental health services, working to combat the stigma attached it, then first I would have to combat my own self-stigma and overcome the fear I had around reaching out for the help I was to desperate for.

Ten months into my course, I first approached my doctor, explaining to him my low moods, my negative thoughts, my anxieties and my panic attacks. We began to work to overcome these issues with medications.

The first medication gave me awful side effects; from feeling drunk and in a bubble and grinding my teeth, to dizziness and memory problems. It also increased my paranoia and had zero effect on my symptoms. The second medication appeared to have no side effects but as I have increased to the maximum dose, it still appears to have zero effect on my mood.

So I began as just the usual patient visiting their doctor, but now after two unsuccessful attempts at stabilizing me on medication, my doctor has decided it best to refer me on to a more specialized service; a local community mental health team (CMHT) for an assessment. This will likely consist of a mental health nurse and a social worker conducting an assessment which will dig deep into my past, my childhood, my medical history, my family and my current problems. It will expect me to divulge information to professionals I may work alongside one day. Information that allows me to be vulnerable.
This is where I become the patient.

I have been on the other side of these assessments; asking the questions and writing the notes. I have listened to others open up about their life story as if it were an episode of my favorite TV series. I have listened to the concern of the nurses in the office after the assessment, or their dismissal of their case stating that their doctor just needs to adjust their medication.

Now it’s my turn to show myself for who I really am, in front of people to whom I have perfected the mask. I know in the long run this will be good for me. I know that being 100 percent truthful and providing as much information as possible is the only way to get the help I really need and that is best suited to me. It will make me a better person; a better nurse. I know it is the next step on my ladder towards health. I know I will be grateful to relieve some of these weights I carry on my shoulders.

However, I also know that for an arrow to go forward, the bow must first pull it back. I will need to go back, back to the dark in order to find the light. Trouble is; I’m afraid of the dark.

I’m not expecting miracles. I’m not expecting a magic wand to be waved and all my problems disappear and all my dreams come true. I am just open to hearing other people’s views on what could help me become the real me.

So why did I decide to write this lengthy, blabbering post that may or may not get published? For me, it was to let people know that professionals struggle too.

The consultant with 35 years experience in his line of work who may seem to have his life together may also be struggling with an invisible illness.

The social worker may be struggling in her personal family life.

The nurse may have to care for their elderly mother straight from their 13-hour shift. We are all human; we do not live to judge.

Please bear this in mind when you seek help. Healthcare professionals are people too; we may have been in your situation or know someone else going through it.

Do not be afraid of reaching out.

If they did not care, they would not be in their line of work.

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

Thinkstock photo via bowdenimages

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7 Ways to Boost Your Mental Health at Work

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Some days, the workplace can be challenging. Your boss wants the reports you just received, and he wants them yesterday. Conflicts about where to order lunch are drawing more firepower than strategy decisions. Plus, face it — sometimes you’re bored.

You find yourself not wanting to go in. Hiding under the covers. Hitting the snooze alarm until you’re late. Which just causes more stress.

Not to worry. You can do many things to help boost your mental health at work. Not only are there several options, but they are also easy to do. No one will even notice you’re doing them.



1. Start your day in a relaxed way.

Despite the nearly universal human temptation to lean on the snooze alarm, try planning your morning differently. How about getting up earlier so you can contemplate what’s coming rather than running away from it? Get up half an hour earlier and sip your favorite tea. Sit in the garden. Listen to soothing music. The key? You control the beginning of your day. Vague forebodings about arguments with your boss don’t.

2. Make your work area soothing.

We’re talking about your immediate work area here. Love plants? Bring in some for your desk. Like to look at animals or your favorite rock star? Posters. The idea is, surround yourself with something that gives you pleasure and a mental boost. It could be anything from pictures of your partner to bright purple sticky notes.

3. Create a sense of accomplishment.

You’ll feel less challenged at work if you have a sense of accomplishment. Frankly, small accomplishments are not always easy to come by. Start working from lists, so you have a record of accomplishment. Jot down three items you’d like to get done today. Don’t beat yourself up if one or more has to move to tomorrow — that’s the nature of work at times. What you’re working toward is crossing the items off. Then, congratulate yourself for doing them and make a new list.

4. Smile at your desk.

It sounds silly, but believe it or not, smiling deliberately is a good mental health exercise. Smile and hold it for 10 seconds — maybe when you know for sure no one is looking at you. It gives your face muscles some exercise, and it also brightens your mood. The beauty of this exercise is it can be done at your desk or in your cubicle.

5. Take a lunch break outside.

If the weather’s good, taking an outdoor break can be a great mood elevator. Stroll around briefly on your lunch break. Run to the neighborhood coffee shop for midmorning beverages. If there’s an outdoor area for sitting nearby, just go out and figuratively smell the roses.

6. Plan a reward.

Your mood will remain balanced if you plan a reward for each difficult task you accomplish. Did you finally get your co-worker to greenlight a social media campaign, after weeks of anxiety-inducing discussion? Plan a specific reward. Buy a favorite DVD, indulge in chocolate or give yourself permission for an hour of cat videos on YouTube.

7. Help someone out.

Helping someone can also improve mental health. They will be happier, and it’s contagious. Try volunteering for a good cause. Teach a co-worker to do something they were struggling with. Drop by your grandmother’s house and help her paint the bedroom.

Numerous ways to improve your mental health at work exist. You can do them quietly so no one will notice. You will notice though, as your overall outlook gets brighter and happier.

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Thinkstock photo via Anna_Isaeva.

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To the Girl Who Just Wants to Be 'Normal'

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I know how hard it can be to feel anything but “normal.” To feel flawed and broken and “crazy.” Your head may feel taken hostage by something or someone and you just don’t feel right. You may feel flawed and different and awkward and wrong. You may feel stuck. You may feel stuck in the cycle of mental illness while the rest of the world seems to float on by, appearing “perfect” and nonchalant and just, “normal.”

I know how hard it is to feel like you’re on the outside looking in on the regular world. You may watch as the world moves as normal, day after day, and you just wish you were moving along with it. You may sit in your apartment looking out the window at the people passing. People running, groups of bikers, friends together laughing. You may imagine yourself as one of them, “normal.”

You want to be “normal,” too. But you don’t feel “normal.”

You may lay in your bed staring at the ceiling just hoping and wishing things could be different. Maybe wishing life would have worked out differently for you. Maybe wishing you had different genetics or were born in different circumstances or that event you experienced hadn’t happened. You may often just wish you were a different person. A “normal” person.

Day after day you may be going through the motions, trying your best to appear “normal,” to blend in, not ruffle feathers, not make mistakes. You put on your normal mask and pray no one notices who you are behind that mask.

Please, let everyone think I’m normal like them. Please.

With the mask on, you may float through life day by day, but at night when you take it off, you cry just wishing things were different. You wish you didn’t need a mask to feel “normal.” You take your medication and pray for sleep so you can forget for a little while.

Maybe you’ve been told you’re not “normal.” Maybe you’ve had people in your life who’ve called you “crazy” or “weird” or “insane.” It stings, and maybe you let their words convince you that you are those things.

Don’t believe them.

Because here’s the thing: there is no such thing as “normal” and even if there was, you are perfect the way you are.

I know you may not believe me at first. You may point to the status quo and say, “Look, but what about that” and “I want to be that, I want to blend in.” You may have felt like the black sheep for years in a flock of stark white. You may not want to stand out anymore.

And yes, it will take time to accept this. It can take a very long time to accept who you are. To accept that maybe you don’t fit a certain mold — it’s hard. You can let yourself mourn the loss of the person you wanted to be, but don’t stay there. Mourn and move on, you’ve got big things to do in life.

You can do wonderful things in this world if you stop chasing and waiting for “normal.” You can move mountains with that soul of yours if you just stop putting on that mask and trying to be something else. You could help the lives of so many people around you, maybe even complete strangers, if you accept yourself and live into you.

Live into your “specialness” — live into those traits that make you feel different. Embrace them.

I know what it’s like to not feel “normal,” but these days I choose to embrace the fact that maybe I’m different than a lot of people, because you know what? That’s who I am, and I like it this way.

Yours,
Not Normal

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Thinkstock photo via isaxar.

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What I Wish My Patients Knew About Therapy

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You’ve been putting it off for a while, but you know you need to do it. You’re not happy, something is affecting your life and you’ve tried to fix it for too long, but you realize you can no longer do it alone. So you do it: you decide to get professional help. You make an appointment with a therapist, half ready to back out any minute, and nervously wait for the day. Finally it arrives and your pounding heart accompanies you to your first session. You may feel wary of speaking. You know that sooner or later this person will know your secrets, your most intimate thoughts, your most embarrassing moments, your biggest regrets. You know you will be vulnerable to the response of this person and that he or she will be an important part of your life.

It’s not easy being vulnerable, so you get emotional when you describe what’s happening to you and why you need help. She allows you to let is all out and, after the stipulated time, she suddenly says the session is over. You may really dislike the abruptness in which sessions are over, but eventually you will learn to accept it. When the first bill arrives, you may question if you really need this, but then you’ll remember why you decided to get help in the first place and brush it off.

After a couple of sessions, when you have already fully accepted this person as your therapist, you may start thinking frequently of what to tell her, you may start looking forward to the sessions (although you might still be nervous about going) and the subjects of the sessions will usually be important experiences from your past (in an unconscious attempt to explain how your past made you who you are) and a few current issues. The more you talk about your past and cover significant topics, the more you start focusing on the present. You may start to look forward to talking about things that happen during the lapse between appointments.

And then… things may start getting confusing. You relive your past from a different point of view, you become more conscious of your present and the awareness of it all hurts you deeply. You and your therapist are working at training your brain into seeing life with a different pair of eyeglasses, ones that work for you. But your core beliefs, your old eyeglasses, feel like home. They don’t work well for you anymore but they are all you know and replacing them is tough and very painful. In these moments you may feel very tempted to walk away. Therapy is like taking medicine that makes you feel sick, but will ultimately help you. Opening yourself up to dealing with situations so deeply painful that they control you, to deal with a darkness so intense you can’t escape it, to deal with fear so incapacitating you stop functioning — takes strength. You keep going to your appointments, terrified of fighting your demons and yet too drawn in to walk away. Everything seems to be worse now, even worse than before.

But slowly, almost imperceptibly, you start feeling better. You don’t even notice it but when you look back, you realize you have been handling things a bit differently more often than not. You don’t get as frustrated or as affected by things. You know yourself better and you learn how to take better care of yourself. While that happens, you will have many ups and downs. Getting better is never a straight increasing line, it’s more like the graph of a potent earthquake. In the downs, you may doubt anything will ever change. You may not understand why you keep resorting to old mechanisms. You feel hopeless with the therapy and with yourself. In the ups, you may be amazed at what has been accomplished and you’ll diligently attend therapy, putting into it your best effort and truly believing the future will be better. I don’t think life ever becomes a straight line and, even if it’s what we long for in the middle of a turmoil, a straight line hardly ever gets the best out of us.

A therapist has the difficult challenge of navigating through choppy waters with her patient, doing whatever it takes to keep her patient’s head above water as the storm rages while, at the same time, teaching him or her how to swim more effectively. The patient, however, is willing to throw himself or herself into choppy waters with unseeing trust they will relearn how to swim even though they feel like they keep drowning. When a patient tells me he wishes he wasn’t so “weak” or that she wishes she wasn’t such a “coward,” I wish they’d all know sitting in that sofa in front of me makes them some of the bravest people I know.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

Thinkstock photo via macrovector.

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