girl with braids looking angry

Don't Call Me 'Brave' for Struggling With Mental Illness


I am tired of hearing the same shit from everyone’s mouths. “It’s so brave.” “They’re so brave.” “You’re so brave for speaking out.” It’s bullshit.

I have no doubt that a few of you will raise your eyebrows at my opinion on this matter, but I am so sick of the word “brave” being thrown around in connection with mental illness.

Why? I think it’s such a counterintuitive way of describing people who struggle with mental illness. As a person who struggles, I can firmly attest that I do not feel “brave.” I do not feel strong. I do not feel empowered. I feel weak, and frail, and lost. That is the foundation of mental illness and to say otherwise is inane. My weakness is the very reason why I am reaching out. Not for a pat on the back, a doggie treat and a quick, “Well done for being so brave.” No. I don’t want your half-hearted sympathy. It’s all so wrong. If we keep shouting out about these “strong” individuals who come forward with their stories and the “bravery” of their act, then we are could be isolating the people who need help the most.

You see, when I struggle, I am at my lowest. And if you continue to portray that it is only the strong who speak up, only the “brave,” then how are these poor souls who can’t find the strength to get out of bed each day going to find the strength to come forward to get the help they need? I don’t think they will. You are telling them that it is the “brave” who let their voices be heard and get the help they need. Not the weak. Therefore, they might continue to struggle in silence. Instead of normalizing those who do let their stories be heard and turning it into digestible garbage with society’s approved notions of “bravery,” why don’t we acknowledge, accept and commend people for being weak?

Having buried my issues beneath the surface as a “high-functioning” depressive, I can confirm that it is hard to accept and come to terms with the fact that I felt broken. Through refusing to acknowledge and accept what I had hidden from even myself, I only made things worse. We should not put mental illness on a pedestal to be revered when whimsical idols declare their struggles. It is the weak, the broken and the crumpled that should be rejoiced.

The more we focus on the “positive” emotions by using these words of “strength” and “bravery,” the more we are distancing ourselves from the fundamental point of mental illness. It is negativity.

I am not condemning those who speak up. Never. I am condemning the media and the misinformed for transforming something so needed into something so unattainable.

Accept mental illness in all its fucked up, horrible, negative glory that it is. Do not give me crowns and swords for I will only crumble under their weight. I do not want your pity or congratulations. I do not want your gold star. I just want to be acknowledged. To share my story with every other broken soul in this universe that feels the same debilitating despair. I want only to inform, spread the word and comfort others in the knowledge that they are not alone. I want help — and to help.

You do not need to be brave. It is OK to be weak. It is more than OK. But it is only once we accept this that the world will understand and begin to change.

Follow this journey here.

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Unsplash photo via Autumn Goodman

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To My Future Children, From Your Mom With Chronic Anxiety and Depression


With Mother’s Day approaching, it’s hard for one to ignore the constant reminders to order flowers, buy personalized scented candles or find the newest recipe to properly serve breakfast in bed for the ultimate ways of spoiling mom. But then there are the other side notes to Mother’s Day — for the aunt, the like-a-mom, the female mentor, the moms of the four-legged, because they, too, do a thankless job. But all this Mother’s Day talk hasn’t just got me thinking of what I need to do, but rather what motherhood really means. And specifically, what it means to the mom who has the extra burden of a mood disorder, or has a child with one. Having no children myself, yet, I pen this to my future kids, for reassurance, as a short guide and as hope, of living with a mom with a chronic mood disorder.

Sophia Loren once said, “When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.” While this no doubt is truth, the reality is, I have to think twice, or maybe 10 times on a simple decision as to where to grab dinner because being someone with anxiety and depression, I overthink everything. I also tend to get nervous, whether it be meeting new people, going to a big event gathering, or simply from watching the news. And I get triggered by sad movies, by shows that try and depict mental illness (though they can never seem to pinpoint it just right!). And then of course, being someone with a diagnosis of chronic depression, I may have low energy, be tired and go through spurts of being out of touch with life, apathetic to any sort of stimuli.

And please know, I’ve tried everything to get well. And I will continue to try anything that brings any sort of hopeful outcome because I need to know if it will work. If eating beets can make me have more energy, I’ll do it, even though I don’t like them at all. If it’s a new prescription medicine, I probably have already tried it, but will do so, again. If it’s meditation, yoga, or anything holistic, yet a little wacky in my book, I have and will continue to try it because I’m a little wacky myself without a mood disorder! If it’s a new trend of nasal sprays or IVs of medicine on the brink such as ketamine when I’m desperate for relief, I have, and will try that, too. And when all seems dark and gloomy, and it all just seems pointless, I will still try, and not for me, but because the greatest gift I could ever have would to be a mom. And no side effects, diagnosis, panic attack or mood swing will stop me from trying to strive to tackle the temptation to give in to the monsters of my mood disorder because I have you.

And yes, your mom is a worrier, so please excuse me if I am extra cautious, if I watch a little to closely while you play on the lawn, if I secure pillows around you so you won’t fall hard on the floor or if I check in on you or a sibling in the middle of the night to make sure you’re still breathing. If I’m a helicopter parent when you reach a more independent age, it’s OK to tell me. I’d rather raise honest children than ones who have to face elephants in the room, or feel like they have to be on egg shells. If any of my comforting compulsions embarrass you, you can tell me that too, as it just makes me more aware of what I need to keep working on. But I hope if I teach you anything, it’s to be kind, to be compassionate and its to work to stamp out the stigma that I hope you never have to face. And yes, I may not always be the best at everything, and the ailments of depression and anxiety may envelope me at the spur of the moment, but please don’t see me as just a depressed worrier. I hope you can look at me as a warrior because I fight this battle every day, never knowing when a threat inside my thoughts may come on and wage war.

And because I am your mother, I will work diligently hard to make sure you are as mentally healthy, as you are physically healthy. I will hope and pray you do not get any genes of mental illness passed on to you, but if you do, always remember it makes you no different — it does not entitle you, or belittle you. And if there comes a time, when life just becomes too overwhelming, when you feel like giving up or you face a trial where intervention is needed, never be too embarrassed or ashamed to tell me. Because being all alone in this, or any fight, is not something I would ever want for my children. I’ve been in the darkness of mental anguish, I know it all too well. So, whatever the ailment, whatever the situation, whatever the environment, be it a therapist’s office, a camp out in bed or even in a psych ward, because I, too have been there, never think twice about calling out to your mother. Because it’s in those moments, even if too proud or afraid to say it, when we want our mom the most.

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.

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Unsplash photo via Dakota Corbin

meme

21 Memes That Might Make You Laugh If You Have Depression or Anxiety


While there’s nothing funny about struggling with your mental health, sometimes people with anxiety and depression use humor to share how they’re feeling in a funny and relatable way.

Sometimes humor can be used to broach a serious topic you otherwise wouldn’t know how to talk about. Sometimes, sending a relatable mental health meme to a friend can bring a smile to their face on days when it’s hard to get out of bed. Other times, seeing a funny meme can let you know you aren’t the only one feeling this way.

Whatever your situation may be, humor can definitely be a powerful coping tool. 

If you use humor to cope with anxiety and depression, here’s a roundup of some memes that might make you chuckle.

1.

stanley office depression meme
via Depression memes Facebook page

2.

hagrid meme
via Depression memes Facebook page

3.

4.

look somebody stole my identity, maybe they will make something out of my life
via Meme Queen on Tumblr

5.

depression meme
via Crippling Depression Tumblr

6.

hey there demons, it's me ya boy
via so-its-sierra Tumblr

7.

when you recognize a new emotional problem you have that you don't have the time, energy or motivation to solve
via Depression memes Facebook page

8.

9.

when your mom asks who was crying in the bathroom last night
via nothingbutmeme Tumblr

10.

*6 am, opens eyes* I can't wait to go to bed tonight
via Crippling Depression Tumblr

11.

when you deal with being sad by listening to sad music
via Depression memes Facebook page

12.

pokemon go: your will to live is so tiny
via thatstrawberrystuff Tumblr

13.

when you wake up and enjoy the 30 seconds of calm before your anxiety kicks in
via yung-sumo Tumblr

14.

when someone tries to hurt your feelings but you've been dead inside and haven't been able to feel for years
via jigglypuffsvevo Tumblr

15.

when someone says "don't be anxious" and your anxiety is cured
via Dank Meme University Tumblr

16.

anxiety meme
via me.me

17.

Anxiety: Something's about to happen. Me: What do you mean? Anxiety:
via Anxiety Memes Facebook page

18.

when you find someone as dead on the inside as you are
via Crippling Depression Facebook page

19.

will remember friends in therapy meme
via Crippling Depression Facebook page

20.

bojack horseman meme
via sylvesterarbuzov Tumblr

 

21.

what can I get you? A break from the existential angst I feel every day
via Crippling Depression Facebook page

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.

portrait of Beethoven

What Beethoven Taught Me About Depression


I would like to start with an excerpt of a letter written by Ludwig van Beethoven to his brothers, some time after he had lost his hearing:

Oh, you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn, or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me? You do not know the secret cause which makes me seem that way to you. From childhood on, my heart and soul have been full of the tender feeling of goodwill, and I was ever inclined to accomplish great things… Though born with a fiery, active temperament… I was soon compelled to withdraw myself, to live life alone. If at times I tried to forget all this, oh how harshly I was I flung back by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing…. Therefore, forgive me when you see me draw back when I would have gladly mingled with you.

As a musician living with mental disorders, this speaks volumes to me. I know the phrase “nobody understands me” may be a bit dramatic, but when you boil it down, that’s the main topic of Beethoven’s letter. Something devastating happened to him, and he spiraled into depression. He seems to feel as if everyone expects him to be OK with the agony and move on. I can sense so much pain, so much chaos and so much depression floating around in his mind. Music was his whole life, and he lost his only means of experiencing it.

The mind of an artist is typically different from your average Joe. We are driven by passion. We are convicted by the things that trouble our souls. We have a voice that must be heard, or it will die. Beethoven had something to offer the world. His voice stands out among the many voices of his day. Even in our modern society, we have so much to thank him for. Although he was capable of composing and conducting without his hearing, it tore him down. I can only imagine how depressed he must have felt! Living in complete and utter silence, save for the music in his head. It must have been agonizing!

Although I (and perhaps many of you) don’t have hearing issues, I can empathize with Beethoven’s turmoil. I’ve been dealing with depression, social anxiety and symptoms of bipolar disorder for a couple of years now. I see what happy, carefree, social people look like. It seems like a rather simple formula. So why do get nervous at the thought of saying “hi” to a stranger in the elevator? Why do I go through my days in a daze (see what I did there?) even though I’m doing what I love? I’m a pianist. I am in love with music theory. I use it on a daily basis. Has it become such a routine that I can’t even appreciate it anymore? I have plenty of “down” mental states and a few neutral ones, but when was the last time I felt true happiness? Just like Beethoven, you might look at me on the street and assume I’m a grumpy party pooper (I also happen to suffer from RBF, which means “resting ‘B’ face,” in case you were wondering), but what lies behind that RBF? There’s a person who wants so badly to be social, loving and joyful. There’s no telling what’s behind the hundreds of faces you see daily.

For many of us, there’s a fine line between who we are and who we know we should be. Trying to become that person can be exhausting! Do we ever really become who we ought to be? Beethoven knew he should continue to pursue his passions, however difficult it may have been. However, he tells his brothers he feels hopeless. Later in the letter, Beethoven writes, “Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended me life — it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me.” Beethoven experienced the most tragic form of irony: the one thing that keeps him going is the one thing he can no longer enjoy. Although he could no longer listen to his art, he had so much passion in his soul that he couldn’t let a little thing like deafness keep him from being who he was supposed to be.

So here is the thought I would like to leave you with: if you’re feeling depressed, worn out or just plain done, I urge you to find something you’re passionate about, and follow it. My literature teacher in high school once said, “I believe every person on the planet has at least one good poem in them.” That being said, what’s your poem? Paint a portrait. Build furniture. Design video games. Join the cast of a play or musical. Dust off that old guitar and learn a few chords. Compose symphonies. Do interpretive dance. Write a story. Teach. If you feel like there’s nothing to live for, find something to live for! Be curious. Be creative. Ask questions. Most importantly, do what you love. Life can be hard when you live with a mental illness. This is coming from someone who feels drained and worn out almost every day. But no matter what happens in this head of mine, I know for a fact that life is good. I truly believe I have joy in my future. I believe that you do too. There is always a reason to live. If you look hard enough, you will find it.

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Thinkstock photo via GeorgiosArt

man sitting on a rock looking happy

10 Things I Realized as a Man Who Struggled With (and Beat) Depression


As boys, we were taught that “big boys don’t cry” and that it’s not OK to show your hurt feelings, or to show you have any feelings at all. As we grew into men, we were told to “harden up, grow a pair and don’t be a pussy.” So when things get tough emotionally, most men seem to bottle their feelings up.

I was one of those guys.

My depression took me to some very dark places. Places that were very painful to experience. It affected every part of my life — my relationships, my work, my happiness, my direction in life and in the end, my health. But ultimately, I beat it. And although this might sound a bit bold, I’m confident to say that now my life is richer because of it.

I’m your ordinary guy. Some people might even say that I have it all going for me: an undergraduate degree in business, an MBA and a very decent 9 to 5 job as a senior business analyst in financial services. I’ve never had any problems finding or keeping a job. If anything, my problem is that I usually just get bored way too quickly.

I like to be physical, and like many men, I love sports. I’ve always enjoyed hitting the gym and I train a lot. Once upon a time you might even say I trained too much; probably because I liked the feeling of strength and masculinity that working out would give me. However, I also used to love getting drunk and partying way more than was good for me. In those days it was important for me to impress girls, and at the time, the behavior I assumed was “cool,” was actually indicative of a man who was emotionally falling apart.

All of that was not really me. All of that was a mask I conditioned myself to wear to look strong. To look macho. To be cool. To give out the impression of an alpha male who nobody can f*ck with. Only after long years of self-destructive behavior and complete dishonesty with myself did I burn out. Many signs came my way, only for me to ignore them and dig myself in even deeper.

It is really entertaining (in hindsight), sad and intriguing at the same time, when I look back at how delusional I was. How I was, with my own actions, destroying myself while having that deep-seated feeling that there was something wrong, that I was still missing something, or more like something was missing from me. That something was just “not right.” I did not know what it was. Most of my 20s and early 30s, I wasn’t even aware that something wasn’t right, something was missing. If you had asked me then if I was depressed, I would’ve laughed at you and probably made some smart arse comment to make you feel bad about yourself. And of course this would’ve just be a defensive reaction to try and feel good about myself, for a moment…

Eventually, however, depression really did set in. Quite a strong depression that I would not be able to get out of without the people life gracefully sent my way at that time. For that, I am very grateful.

I also had many realizations about struggling with depression along the way:

1. Being depressed and being sad are two different things.

Feelings of sadness come and go and are usually related to one event or a group of events. Depression is something that can last days, weeks, months, even years. You simply might not feel good and there are not many, if any bright moments in your life, according to you. Even though there are genuine reasons to feel happy, you might become incapable of genuinely feeling good.

I remember, one year I travelled home to Slovakia to see my family. I had organized my trip to coincide with my parents combined 60th birthday party, and the fact that it was going to be in Europe during the summer was an added bonus. Looking back now, I had every opportunity to have a fantastic time. My parents were healthy and all of my family members would be reunited at one event together; something that had not happened in over a decade. And yet when I arrived and the family reunion was in full swing, I simply was not present. I mean, I was there physically, but I was just so consumed by my depression that I simply could not enjoy this precious moment.

2. Emotionally, I was empty.

It didn’t matter to me at the time that I was hurting my parents with my despondent behavior. There was nothing I could do to shake the dark cloud that hung over me. And the fact that I couldn’t do anything, while knowing something was wrong, drove me even more insane.

3. I couldn’t just decide to be not depressed.

There was no amount of positive thinking techniques, strategies, hacks, friendly advice or even threats by family members (with good intentions) that could make me snap out of it. And I knew it. I was stuck there, in that deep hole I wanted to get out of, and yet I couldn’t. No amount of happy thoughts and being positive helped sort it out.

4. It’s real and it does exist. It doesn’t just go away.

There is no way out. No amount of exit strategies and avoidances could help me, unless I faced it. I could drink myself to numbness (which I used to do with a passion), I could even exercise to numbness (which I was also very good at), only to wake up feeling the same, if not worse than the day before. Facing it is painful, scary, and like stepping into the unknown; but avoiding my “demons” would only postpone the inevitable and make it more painful in the end.

5. I came to realize others have it too, yet I felt alone.

No matter how much I read about it online, talked about it with professionals who assured me that I was not that special — that it is perfectly common and a lot of people experience this — I still felt like a failure.

6. I wanted to be with people, yet I did everything possible to isolate myself.

I wanted to be with people, even more, I craved human interaction. I yearned to be in my circle of friends and to be with someone. And yet at the same time, I dreaded picking up the phone to call and say: “Hey, I’m feeling down. I’d like you to come over.” Or even more, the scary “I need help.” My mind would come up with all kinds of stories about why my friends might not help me, not support me or even think I’m a loser. But this is absolutely untrue. You would be surprised how many people are ready to help and how many people will understand.

7. I felt like crying very often.

For a long time, I wanted to cry, yet I didn’t allow myself to do so. There was a strong stigma around it for me. It took me a long time to allow myself to cry. As soon as I did it for the first time, it became a part of my daily morning ritual. Crying like a baby for half an hour every morning. Unbelievably cleansing. I am convinced that crying on a regular basis was one of the reasons I am no longer struggling with depression. I realized later that crying is a strength, not a weakness.

8. I felt like less of a person.

The stigma around depression is gradually being conquered. More and more influential people, celebrities, scientists, you name it, are coming out and sharing their experience with depression. Many people admit that depression was a dramatic turning point in their lives. A turning point when things started to improve, transform and transition into the good times. Having depression does not mean that you or I are less of a person.

9. Some people will not understand.

I was only talking openly about this with my mum. Not my dad. My dad did not have the capacity to comprehend this (as an old school eastern European man with a low EQ). He knew, yet he did not understand. My mum would tell me he simply could not understand what I could be depressed about. A “man” like me, what a load of horse shit! But you know… I don’t feel upset about that. I know that a few years back, my reaction would’ve been the same, if not worse. So yeah, some people will not understand, and that is OK.

10. Living from gratitude.

When I look back now, I am really grateful for all the “painful” experiences. They taught me a lot about life and a lot about myself. The whole experience of dealing with depression is something that really enriched my life. I am now much more empathetic. I am less judgmental. I stress about petty things far less. Lots of my relationships have improved, for example the relationship with my family is much better. My sister and I are now closer. When I was down she was there for me and we talked about things that we had not used to. I have my moments, absolutely, yet the way I deal with things is so much healthier.

Read more by this author here.

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a mural of a woman's face breaking in half

Some Days, I Wish My Depression Was Visible


I have physical problems with my body. I was born with an extremely rare skin condition called cutis marmorata telangiectatica Congenita, which affects my leg. It might be easier for you to google it rather than try and understand my “fake” medical explanation (most of it carefully noted from “House”), but basically you can see all the veins in my right leg (it’s not a pretty sight), and that leg is shorter and skinnier than the left one. When I was born, the midwife called it “a wasted limb” (ha, I proved her wrong). Due to the difficulties I still have, it affects my foot, causing me to limp, especially after a long walk or run or a heavy night out. This means that friends who agree to go shoe shopping with me are keepers because sizes become irrelevant — it is more a case of which pair of shoes make me trip over myself the least.

I also have depression and anxiety — which are not so easy to spot.

With my two very different conditions, I’ve often found the difference in reactions to be remarkable. Still, in my experience, a physical illness is seen as being easier to deal with than a mental one.

Due to the issues with my foot, if I’ve been walking for a while, I start to limp (not helped by odd-fitting shoes). I live with my friends in Liverpool and every day we walk up a steep hill to get back to our flat. I had been out alone all day one weekend and I was aware my foot was throbbing more than usual. It wasn’t until we reached some traffic lights that I took a look. It wasn’t a pretty sight. My foot was completely covered in blood.

The reaction from people at the traffic lights was initially shock, unsurprisingly — but it was the help and concern that moved me. I was offered plasters and even money to get a taxi home. This left me thinking. Blood is repulsive — nobody likes to see it — but it gets a reaction. It creates concern.

It is harder for people to know when you are hurting on the inside.

If you are quiet, even teary, people are not so quick to respond with such concern. It could be your “time of the month.” Or maybe you’re extra sensitive because of exams. Hell, you could even be considered rude or weird. A panic attack is often met with awkwardness. The fact that you could be in any kind of serious pain is often too far down people’s lists of the usual symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The point being that my cutis marmorata telangiectatica Congenita may be a condition that needs attention, treatment and awareness. But why is my brain any different or less important? Why is my leg condition seen as something I can’t help — something I deserve some kind of bizarre sympathy for? Why is my mental health my fault and something I should “get over?”

I may not have blood pouring from my head, but sometimes I wish I did. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel so guilty.

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Unsplash photo via Chris Barbalis 

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