B.L. Acker

@b-l-acker | contributor
Super Contributor
I am a 45-year-old happily married mother of three. I have survived physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse, a failed previous marriage and a long engagement imploded by an ex’s repeated infidelities. I have been diagnosed with major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorder. I have many facets and have filled many roles. At different times in my life, I have been a student, a teacher, a mother, a daughter, a fiance, a wife, an artist and an author. Throughout my life, I have been both strong and courageous, weak and afraid. I may be a product of my experiences and choices, but I refuse to let them define me. After years of suffering in silence, I have found my voice. My first book, “Unlovable: A Story of Abuse and Depression from Someone Drowning in the Abyss,” is available for purchase in both paperback and e-book versions on Amazon.com and at barnesandnoble.com.
B.L. Acker

CDC Director's Comments About COVID Deaths Outrage Disabled People

On the morning of Friday, January 14, 2022, ABC aired a segment with Rochelle Walensky, the current director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the interview, Good Morning America host Cecilia Vega asked the head of the CDC, “Is it time to start rethinking how we’re living with this virus — that it’s potentially here to stay?” Walensky’s response, as it was presented by the morning news show, triggered immediate outrage throughout the disabled community. She appeared to be jovial, explaining that those dying of COVID-19 were mostly people with preexisting conditions: “The overwhelming number of deaths — over 75 percent — occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So really, these are people who were unwell to begin with. And yes: really encouraging news in the context of Omicron.” Both ABC and the CDC made statements after the fact that her interview had been edited for time and was misrepresentative of Walensky’s statements as a whole. Good Morning America’s webpage swiftly replaced the shorter, modified clip with the original, longer, unedited version that more accurately placed her statement within a much larger exchange. This exchange highlighted the effectiveness of the vaccine in lowering death rates overall. However, the damage was already done. The hashtag #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy was born. The hashtag has since taken on a life of its own on social media, with disabled people, adults, and children alike expressing their utter outrage and frustration. folks have pushed the narrative of vulnerable people’s lives being disposable for this entire pandemic (& before), and to see @CDCDirector finding our deaths “encouraging” bc they are less valuable to y’all than economical stimulation is so so appalling.#MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy https://t.co/RvScLg7ylK— devin norko (they/them) (@mxdevinn) January 9, 2022 i’m a kid. a disabled one who’s tired of ablebodied people treating disabled people being the ones dying as “very encouraging”, or “would’ve happened anyways” (real words i’ve been told) because we’re seen as lesser. i’m a human, not a damn data point. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy https://t.co/GjLl3YSpda— ⚢ olivier yadriel (@lesbosigma) January 9, 2022 Just because I am sick, doesn’t mean it’s ok if I die. It’s disgusting that people see people like me as just necessary casualties so they can go to a concert #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy— idk man ♿ (@mediocrebitch47) January 9, 2022 the use of words like “only” when making statements like “it’s only the vulnerable who are dying,” tells me exactly all i need to know about how much you value my life & what you think of disabled people. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy— chase nadine (@gangewifre) January 9, 2022 Some have even gone as far as to connect the initial statement as it was misrepresented by Good Morning America as the CDC supporting Eugenics. hey @CDCDirector , eugenics is not a viable pandemic strategy. to present this as good news is telling disabled people that we are expendable for the sake of abled’s enjoyment of a lockdown-free society. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy https://t.co/UTH8qVp5cQ— new year new meshinui (@m0shim0chi) January 9, 2022 hey @CDCDirector , eugenics is not a viable pandemic strategy. to present this as good news is telling disabled people that we are expendable for the sake of abled’s enjoyment of a lockdown-free society. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy https://t.co/UTH8qVp5cQ— new year new meshinui (@m0shim0chi) January 9, 2022 By Friday afternoon, it was announced on Twitter that over 150 different disability advocacy groups had united and created a petition to meet with the head of the CDC herself to discuss the matter and that a meeting was set. NEW! @CDCgov Director Walensky’s controversial statements unleashed the power of @Imani_Barbarin‘s #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy. #Disability orgs to meet w/Director Walensky on Fri Jan 14. Nearly 150 groups have signed on with demands we’ll make at tmrw’s mtghttps://t.co/IjeiuWHsWk— Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (@DREDF) January 13, 2022 Still the hashtag continues to spread because the sentiment that disabled lives are somehow inherently worth less is one our community has faced for some time now. Though this isolated incident is currently being addressed, it does little to change the sad reality we face every day, a reality that has grown exponentially worse since the start of this pandemic. In the early days of the pandemic, when lockdowns were first suggested and it came to light that the vast majority of early deaths being reported were among the elderly and the disabled, our lives themselves became the topic of debate. Many people insisted that our lives were an acceptable loss if it meant bolstering the economy and reopening the country. Some callous people even went so far as to suggest that many of us were going to die early anyway and that we on average contributed less to society, that we were essentially an unnecessary burden that society could afford to shed. The very concept that a disabled life is worth less and would be an acceptable loss for the betterment of society as a whole, that society should systematically cleanse itself of the weakest among us, is eugenics in a nutshell. This is a sentiment I have addressed before, and one I have willingly lost friendships over. My husband and I are both disabled. I have been diagnosed with severe major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD, as well as having two meningioma tumors on my brain. My husband has bipolar disorder, PTSD, and a myriad of physical ailments and injuries. We both have been designated as disabled. Being given a disability label does not mean we are acceptable losses. No one who is disabled would be an acceptable loss. No disabled person who has died from this pandemic was an acceptable loss, either. As a disabled person, this is the line I draw in the sand. This is a mountain I will gladly die upon. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy ALL disabled lives are worthy. I am a mother, a wife, a friend. I am a writer, a journalist, and a mental health advocate. My disability is but one of many hats I wear. But even if I were none of those things, my life would still be worthy. Our worth is not determined by how much we contribute to the economy. Our worth is not diminished by being or becoming disabled. While this hashtag may be new, our feelings on the matter are not. The fact of the matter is that we are collectively fed up with being treated as if our lives are worth less. We are tired of hearing people shrug off our potential deaths if it means they can go to a ball game or grab a drink at the bar. We are disgusted by people who argue that they shouldn’t have to wear a mask in order to do their part to help slow the spread of a potentially deadly disease because other people’s weakened immune systems are their own problem. We are tired of being told that anyone at a higher risk who wishes to live in fear should just stay home. Many of us can’t. We have doctors’ appointments. We need groceries and other supplies. Many of us have families or jobs. We already are going out less, many times only when absolutely necessary. We get vaccinated if and when we can. We mask up, wash up, sanitize. We are doing our best to keep ourselves safe, but we need to live, too. We deserve to live, too. It is bad enough that going out since the start of the pandemic has largely felt like trying to navigate our way through an active minefield. No masks to be seen on one side of us. Masks worn as chin straps on the other. Anti-vaxxers ahead. Holding our breath, stepping gingerly around, taking wide berths because we know one misstep, one exposure, could have potentially deadly consequences for some of us. On top of that virtual minefield, we carry with us the sad knowledge that there are people out there, people among our neighbors, co-workers, and sometimes even our family and friends, who legitimately are wishing us dead. There are people out there who would be happy to hear they could shed their masks and attend concerts and parties again, even if it meant wiping every last disabled person off the planet to get to that point. There are people in history who believed as some people today do, that disabled lives are expendable, acceptable losses. The eugenics movement began in England in the 1880s and swiftly rose to popularity in the early 1900s in the United States. Eugenics-based legislation began to be passed in 1907, and by 1931, 29 states had such laws on the books. An estimated 64,000 people, focused primarily on the disabled, were sterilized during that period in an attempt to decrease the number of disabled people through selective breeding. There are even historical leaders who have tried to systematically wipe out disabled people. Perhaps the most notable example was Nazi Germany under Hitler’s regime. Over a quarter-million people with disabilities were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust and hundreds of thousands more were forcibly sterilized and experimented on. But not all historical figures take that cruel stance. Some of the wisest people the world has ever known have all encouraged society to embrace and care for disabled people. Mahatma Gandhi said, “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” The fact that there are many people today who view disabled people as acceptable losses does not bode well for our society or our future. Compassion is key. The Dalai Lama has stated, “Compassion is the radicalism of our time,” and, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Nelson Mandela said, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” The question becomes, which side of history do we want to be on as a society? Perhaps in order to go forward and into our next chapter post-pandemic, we need to go backwards. Go back to a time when we valued such wisdom. Compassion matters. Disabled lives matter. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy

B.L. Acker

How Stigma Still Impacts Mental Health Depictions in Movies in 2021

The stigma surrounding mental illness seems to be a hot topic issue at the forefront of many mental health conversations. Negative assumptions, inaccurate perceptions, gross misrepresentations and outright caricatures often overshadow these diagnoses, making it harder for people to seek treatment out of fear of judgment. One needs not look any further than the portrayal of mental illness and mental health related issues in recent movies in order to see that stigma is still very much alive and strong today. Though I admittedly always try to first and foremost appreciate movies completely at their face value, as someone who regularly writes about mental health topics and advocates for the mentally ill, it is difficult not to notice when stigma rears its ugly head on the silver screen. All too often, whenever mental illness is brought up in cinema, those branded with that diagnosis are portrayed as either a dangerous monster or a pathetic joke. Rarely are the mentally ill ever portrayed as regular people who are merely struggling with a fairly common health problem that needs treatment. Perhaps even more tragically, serious mental health topics are often flung about as plot devices and grossly misrepresented solely for the sake of furthering another character’s story. One such example of a poor representation of mental illness is “Demonic,” a 2021 movie by Neill Blomkamp. Though my husband and I are fans of much of his other work, the representation of mental illness in this movie reeked of old fashioned stigma. The character of Angela is introduced simultaneously as severely mentally ill, dangerous and dabbling with the occult, as if her illness itself is demonic in nature. Every time Angela’s diagnosis is broached in the movie, it is overshadowed by stark reminders that she is a monster because of her condition. There seems to be little effort made to separate the mental illness from the demonic entities, leaving viewers feeling like they are so intertwined that they are one and the same. When not displayed as dangerous or a monster, the mentally ill are often portrayed as the punchline to a joke, as is the case with the 2021 movie “Nobody,” starring Bob Odenkirk. The movie opens with Odenkirk’s character Hutch going through the motions of a seemingly unfulfilling, monotonous, humdrum life. The viewer can feel his depression emanating off the screen.  Unfortunately though, his depression is often used as a punchline and he is treated by many of the other characters as a joke. He is seen as a sad and pathetic man who never reached his potential, who is expected by his wife’s family to find a way to suck it up and do better rather than offered any real encouragement or support. Though an otherwise entertaining action movie, it was sad to see his depression used as a recurring joke by those who clearly did not know him. His character deserved better than to be treated as a punchline.  However, thanks to the stigma surrounding mental illness, both characters in movies and people in real life are frequently mocked and mistreated. Another 2021 movie that hit rather poorly with its portrayal of mental health issues was “Till Death.” In the movie, the protagonist Emma, played by Megan Fox, goes to a remote cabin with her husband to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Through a series of flashbacks, the viewer sees that not only is the husband controlling and borderline abusive, but that Emma is having an affair with one of her husband’s associates. After Emma and her husband are settled in at the secluded cabin, he reveals that he knows about her tryst before handcuffing himself to her and killing himself out of revenge for her disloyalty to their marriage. His suicide is used solely as a plot device to push her into an epic battle for survival. As someone who has not only lost people I cared about to suicide but who has also made attempts myself, to callously and shallowly portray suicide merely as the ultimate revenge and punishment for an unfaithful spouse felt wrong on so many levels. Even the portrayal of mental health practitioners has not escaped the overwhelming scope of stigma in movies today. Whether portrayed as irresponsible, downright dangerous or completely inept, a shroud of distrust often lingers over those who treat mental illnesses and disorders in cinema.  How are those who are dealing with mental health struggles of their own in real life supposed to be comfortable seeking medical treatment when many of the representations they see of practitioners on the silver screen remind them that these doctors are not dependable nor trustworthy? Once again, Blomkamp’s “Demonic” immediately comes to mind. The doctors in the movie are portrayed as so obsessed about reaching within Angela’s mind that they repeatedly and haphazardly put Angela’s estranged daughter Carly’s mental wellbeing and her life itself at risk. Any true mental health practitioner would not jeopardize the mental wellbeing of one patient for the sake of another, nor would they encourage someone to endanger themselves on numerous occasions. Not only do Angela’s doctors convince Carly to participate in procedures they know to be unsafe, but they also lure Carly to a site of a traumatic event from her youth under the guise that it may help her mother. Another 2021 movie that portrayed a mental health practitioner in a vastly negative light was “Hypnotic.” In this movie, a woman named Jenn goes to see a therapist who specializes in hypnotism in the hope that he can help her get over her last relationship that ended when she lost her baby. Over time, the therapist is revealed to be obsessed with Jenn due to her resemblance to his late wife. He misuses hypnotism to murder Jenn’s friends and to push her to the attempted murder of her ex-fiancé. Though at face value, it was admittedly a decent thriller, when viewed through a mental health lens, especially as someone with a history of mental health struggles combined with a lot of trust issues, it was very unsettling to watch. Unfortunately though, there are many movies like this still being made today where mental health practitioners are painted as unbalanced and dangerous. When it becomes a common theme in cinema, how are prospective patients not supposed to be wary of seeing a doctor themselves? Perhaps even more discouraging than when a mental health professional is presented as callous, irresponsible or dangerous is when they are portrayed as completely inept solely for comic relief. A good example of this is the 2021 movie “Dangerous,” starring Scott Eastwood and Mel Gibson. Eastwood’s character Dylan is introduced as someone with a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. Though many of the other characters in the film repeatedly refer to and regard Dylan as being insane and dangerous, the movie did a tremendous job of displaying a difficult diagnosis gingerly. Not only is Eastwood’s character taking his treatment seriously by taking his medication dutifully and touching base with his doctor on a regular basis, but at one point his character explains to his nephew that he isn’t bad, but rather he just sees the world differently. Credit should always be given where it is due. As much as Eastwood’s handling of his character hit the mark, Mel Gibson’s Dr. Alderwood missed it. Though the character is described as eccentric in many of the movie reviews, perhaps scatterbrained and inept would be more fitting. As Dylan’s doctor, he is outright dismissive of law enforcement’s involvement in his patient’s life and only vaguely attentive to what is going on with his patient whenever he reaches out for help. When considered at face value, the character makes for entertaining comic relief, but when considered through a mental health lens, I would have to agree with Dr. Alderwood’s own assessment in the movie that he’s probably going to lose his license. While it is admittedly encouraging that mental health is more readily portrayed today in movies, it is clear that these depictions are still heavily fueled by the stigma surrounding mental illness. Yes we have come a long way, especially in regards to representation, but there is still a long way to go. Perhaps one day a more accurate representation of mental health diagnoses and practitioners will be normalized, but until then we must continue to acknowledge when movies miss their mark. While we can still enjoy them at face value for the cinematic artwork and entertainment that they are, at the same time we must remember that they are not an accurate portrayal of those living with or treating mental illness. Going forward, we must also strive as a society to do better, so that in the future the mentally ill and their doctors are more accurately perceived as real people and not caricatures or unrealistic stereotypes.

B.L. Acker

2021 Recap: How These 6 Movies Portrayed Grief and Loss

Plato said that art is an imitation of life. Many people believe art exists to help us understand the world better and to see the world with clarity. As such, it only makes sense movies should be a reflection of our lives and the trials and tribulations we face. Considering all the loss we have endured as a society in the last year in great part due to the pandemic, it only makes sense grief and loss should be a recurring, underlining theme for many movies throughout 2021. (Spoiler alert for the following movies.) 1. “Reminiscence” In the 2021 dystopian movie “Reminiscence,” the character Nick Bannister, played by Hugh Jackman, is a private eye who can delve directly into other people’s minds and memories. He is devastated by the suspicious disappearance of one of his clients with whom he was romantically involved and becomes obsessed with finding the truth behind her disappearance. The anger and denial stages of grief make it impossible for him to let go or move on, to the point where he is willing to chase clues even if they lead to his untimely death. 2. “Finch” In the 2021 post-apocalyptic movie “Finch,” the titular character, played by Tom Hanks, is one of a small handful of people left alive following a cataclysmic global event. Accompanied only by his dog and various machines he has built, Finch remains largely alone because the vast majority of what remains of the human race has proven themselves to be both unpredictable and dangerous. Clear in the knowledge he is dying, Finch constructs a robot to serve as his dog’s caretaker and protector so his dog will not be alone. Not only does Finch grieve the world that used to exist, but he also struggles to face his own mortality. There is so much anger in his grief that he struggles to cope under the weight of it all. 3. “Injustice” In the animated DC movie “Injustice,” Superman (voiced by Justin Hartley) falls apart following the loss of his beloved Lois who was pregnant at the time. Though the movie is animated, do not confuse this for a children’s movie because there were very violent and mature themes throughout. After Lois is killed, Superman is saddled by a great deal of guilt. He believes he is ultimately responsible for her death by his frequent inaction and softer stances on conflict resolution. Due to his overwhelming guilt, he believes the only way to fix the planet and to assure that nobody ever dies needlessly again is to rule over everyone with an iron fist.  Blinded by his grief, he lashes out again and again, destroying anyone in his path. Many of the movies of 2021 are thoroughly relatable in their representations of the excruciating pain that comes with loss, existing as cautionary tales of the dangers of letting grief consume you. Even many of the children’s movies of 2021 have not escaped the vast thematic net cast by society’s overwhelming sense of loss and grief; however, they also exude a more positive theme, that of hope. 4. “Mitchells vs. The Machines” In the 2021 animated movie “Mitchells vs. The Machines,” the sense of loss that is represented is that of a child growing up and growing out of the family. There is a disconnect and vast sense of divisiveness that separates the generations, making it feel almost impossible to come together. It is through reflection and selfless acts they finally learn how to communicate and work together as a family again. 5. “Raya and the Last Dragon” In the 2021 animated movie “Raya and The Last Dragon,” both Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) and her once-friend, now-nemesis Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan) are grieving great, albeit vastly different, losses. Raya had to learn how to exist without her father at her side to guide her, and Namaari faced a loss of a kinship she once embraced in the name of belonging to her community. Between the two exists Sisu, a dragon believed to be the last of her kind (voiced by Awkwafina). Each is so consumed by their own loss they struggle to see the pain others are experiencing. It is only through learning to trust one another and seeing the world through each other’s eyes that they can begin to heal. 6. “Luca” In the 2021 animated movie “Luca,” two sea monsters named Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) find themselves disguised and struggling to fit into the human world. While Luca has run from a family that does not seem to understand or accept him, Alberto has clearly been abandoned by his own family, left to fend for himself.  The grief of that abandonment causes distrust and jealousy for Alberto when Luca begins to integrate into the human world. In order for Alberto to find his own place in the world, he must learn to trust again and to heal. While many of the children’s movies of the last year have had an underlying theme of loss and grief, they also all possess an undercurrent of hope through unity. It is often said children are our future. Likewise, perhaps children’s movies are directing us toward our future. Whereas grief and loss are an inevitable part of life because you cannot have life without death, hope also exists on the horizon, brought forth in each sunrise, each new day. As much as art represents life, it has also been said life imitates art. Perhaps the way to move forward and heal from grief and loss is to take our cue from children’s movies about grief and loss and learn to embrace hope and trust again. In so many ways, 2021 has been a roller coaster ride for us all. This past year has been the very embodiment of grief and loss, reflected back upon us in so many of the new movies we have watched. The pandemic and life itself has taken so much from so many of us, but what still remains is hope. As long as we are still here, still going, there is hope for tomorrow, hope for better days, hope for new movies, new experiences, new friends, new loves, new beginnings. Grief and loss may feel agonizingly painful, and its reflection in movies may feel devastatingly relatable, but our stories are not over. As long as we are still here, hope remains.

B.L. Acker

Marvel Cinematic Universe's Realistic and Nuanced Portrayal of Grief

Grief and loss has always been a staple of the superhero genre, part of the backstory mentioned in passing that makes a superhero who they are at their core and what prompted them to fight the good fight. Often however in the past, this loss and grief was glossed over without anguishing detail. We all know how Peter Parker lost Uncle Ben, and how Tony Stark lost his dad who was killed by the Winter Soldier. While that grief existed as a cornerstone and building block, it often resided in the past more as a footnote than as a chaotic sea of emotions in the present. In the past year however, loss and grief within the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded and taken center stage. Superhero stories are a guilty pleasure for many of us because they play into our innate desire to help others and be genuinely good at our core. We all hope that if we were ever put in one of those impossible positions, we’d step up to the plate and be heroes, too. We hope we’d be strong enough. As Stan Lee says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” One of the other draws to superhero stories is their relatability. So many of the Marvel heroes are just regular people at their core, people who have found themselves in extraordinary situations. Superhero stories are also frequently a reflection of the times and the people living in them. Perhaps because as the pandemic raged on throughout 2021, and more of us experienced great loss and grief ourselves, that reflection of reality within the Marvel universe began to display a more thorough example of loss and grief, as well. Looking over the Marvel movies and shows over the last year paints a broad and expansive canvas of loss and grief that mirrors so much of the grief many of us have felt ourselves over the last twelve months. The five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — exist now within the Marvel universe in droves. In the series “Wandavision,” Wanda Maximoff lost the love of her life and it devastated her so deeply that she created an alternate world for herself where they could be together. Her loss felt too deep and too great that she could not bring herself to live without him, even if it meant tearing the rest of her world apart. Her loss was not a glossed over backstory, but rather it was ever-present, ever-raw. “What is grief, if not love persevering?” In the series “Loki,” after the titular character is captured by the TVA, he is forced to face the fact that his mother — the one person who was always loving and supportive of him — was dead directly because of his actions and choices. Though his mother’s death took place a few years back in the Marvel timeline, Loki’s devastation of learning her fate and his responsibility for her death visibly shook him to his core. That level of heartbreak gave his character more depth and relatability in one minute of screen time than he had in multiple Avengers movies as a villain. Throughout the series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” Bucky was in therapy to cope with the aftermath of all the devastation he caused while he was the Winter Soldier, struggling to make amends to everyone he wronged. So many characters in that show, from Falcon to Bucky to Karli to John Walker to Sharon Carter to Zemo to Isaiah all mourned their loss of self, of identity, and of community to different extents. Many episodes of the multiverse series “What If…?” dealt with loss and grief in some way. The first episode flipped the roles of Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers, with her losing Steve and becoming the captain instead. In another fragment of the multiverse where earth was in the throes of a zombie apocalypse, Vision kept T’Challa alive as he fed him piece by piece to his love, a zombie Scarlet Witch. Perhaps the most poignant was the episode where Doctor Strange lost his love instead of his hands and tried again and again unsuccessfully to save her life, until he was consumed by dark magic and destroyed the world itself. Again and again, over a multitude of universes, we watched as the superheroes we have come to love were torn apart by grief and loss that was agonizingly relatable. In the “Black Widow” movie, Natasha grieved so much loss. The loss of the surrogate family she had for a brief time, the loss of her ability to have children, the loss of the little girl she believed she killed when trying to escape her dark past. Natasha’s life was so full of loss that she wasn’t even sure how to be happy anymore. In the movie “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” we watched Shang Chi’s father drown in a grief so deep at the loss of his wife that he almost destroyed the world trying to get her back. The level of his grief mirrored Wanda’s in “Wandavision” and Doctor Strange’s in “What If…?” to the point where he was willing to do anything, destroy anything, just to have the love of his life back at his side. In the series “Hawkeye,” Clint exists in a perpetual state of grief wherein he cannot even bring himself to enjoy the campy Steve Roger’s Musical with his children because he is haunted by the loss of Natasha. Likewise, Kate Bishop is put on her path by the death of her father, one tragic moment in time that served as the catalyst for everything else in her life. Even two of the main villains of the show are driven by loss and grief — Maya by the loss of her father whom she blames on Ronin, and Yelena by the loss of Natasha whom she blames on Hawkeye. So many people are grieving, yet nobody seems to know how to cope, leaving them all to act out irrationally. Again and again over the last year within the Marvel universe, loss and grief has appeared and taken center stage. It no longer exists as a footnote to explain what made our superheroes into the people they are today. This past year Marvel has thrown the grief and the loss of their characters on the table to mirror our own, giving them more depth, and more relatability than ever before. When we watch superhero movies, we want to put ourselves into their shoes, to be a hero like them. And now, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe walking a mile in our shoes, taking our grief onto themselves, they have gone full circle, becoming fully human, as heart-wrenchingly painful and relatable as those feelings of loss can be.

B.L. Acker

Dealing With Mental Illness as a Newlywed During the Pandemic

People often say that when a couple gets married, they have their whole life ahead of them. That first year following the nuptials is often a flurry of excitement and monumental life changes. Often, the honeymoon period is kicked off with a trip to celebrate. For many newlyweds, there’s the prospect of new houses, new babies, perhaps even new jobs or new pets. Getting married for most people kickstarts an exciting new chapter of life. However, in my husband and my first year together as a married couple, we barely did more than survive. Due in part to the pandemic, and in part lack of finances, we never had a honeymoon. The only traveling we’ve done in our first year of marriage was to and from doctors’ appointments. There were no new homes, new babies, new pets or new jobs to signify and celebrate our new roles as husband and wife. Beyond filling out extra paperwork and putting on rings, our lives barely changed at all. Since we’ve gotten married, all we’ve really done in the last year was continue to survive. My husband and I are both currently considered disabled. In all honesty, both of us having that designation was one of the only reasons we were able to actually get married. If only one of us were disabled, tying the knot would have jeopardized my much needed health coverage. Up until he received his disability diagnosis as well, we were one of many couples in this country who could not afford to get married without putting my coverage at risk. Few allowances are made for couples where only one spouse is disabled — usually the marriage penalties are too steep unless both partners are disabled. My husband has bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as multiple painful physical issues related to past injuries. I have major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, and two benign tumors on my brain. Between the two of us, we have a lot of bad days where one or both of us struggle to even get out of bed. Some days I cry — a lot. There are a lot of days where one or both of us withdraw from the world because everything outside our home feels too overwhelming to face. Due to our disability statuses, finances are ridiculously tight. The paltry amount we receive for disability assistance, supplemented by periodic small sums for my writing, never seem to be quite enough to make ends meet. I clip coupons and shop sales religiously, yet we regularly fight to keep our heads above water. While in theory getting jobs would ease our financial struggles, it would also mean losing the disability coverage we’ve both fought so hard to achieve. Even beyond that, we both know that honestly we’re in no place mentally to work right now. Neither one of us is reliable enough right now to adhere to any semblance of a set schedule, even on a part-time basis. We both struggle with depression so bad that there are days we can’t even pull ourselves out of bed.  Though our depression comes in waves and some days are better than others, we never know when those really low days are going to hit or even how long they will last. Employers tend not to want an employee they can’t count on to be there from one day to the next, whose availability is spotty at best, and is likely to change on the drop of a dime for undetermined, unpredictable periods of time. I do sporadic freelance writing when I can in order to earn a little extra money, but even that is unsteady and unreliable because I am unable to write regularly due to my mental health struggles. I’ve resigned myself to doing what I can when I can, and forgiving myself for all that I cannot do at this time. We have a lot of days we have fondly nicknamed “F*** it” days, where we are both struggling so badly that we know our chances of any possible productivity is low. We’ve had many days we’ve microwaved TV dinners, heated up frozen pizzas, or had other minimal effort meals on TV trays while curled up on the couch together or on lap trays in bed. It isn’t that I don’t know how to cook. I actually enjoy cooking and baking when I am up to doing it. There are just many days I am physically, mentally and emotionally not up to the task. So we’ve learned to adapt together and throw together minimal effort meals on those days when we are not capable of doing more. Most days there are dishes in the sink and laundry piled up waiting to be washed. There are times it takes days before we make it into the shower. Sometimes it takes days or even a week to brace and prepare myself to do even the simplest of tasks like making phone calls or running errands. Depression isn’t pretty and it isn’t easy. Some days it takes hours before we’re even able to pull ourselves out of bed to pee. Most of this past year we took one day at a time, sometimes even one hour at a time, plodding through life moment by moment, just trying to survive. There have been times I have wondered whether I might have made his life harder by becoming his wife, and I’m sure he has pondered the same about being my husband. But at the same time, we give each other more compassion, empathy, understanding, love and support than either of us had ever received prior to reconnecting with each other. In each other, we have found everything we never realized we needed and everything we could ever want in a partner. I have never before felt so heard or understood. We may have done little more than survive together this last year as newlyweds, but there is nobody else I would ever want at my side. I know the idea of going through an entire year just surviving might sound pretty sad and pathetic, but for us it was monumental. We survived. That’s huge for us. We fought an ongoing, daily battle with huge monsters on our backs and lived to tell the tale for another year. And more importantly, we did it together as husband and wife. It may not have been the exciting first year that many newlyweds get, but we got through our first year together. We survived! If any of you made it through the past year — if all you did was survive — I’m proud of you. You’re still here! That’s huge! We’re all doing our best to get through life however we can, doing our best when possible, even if our best some days is just treading water. Whatever you can do is enough. Just keep plodding on, day by day, minute by minute if you have to. And know there are others out there, like my husband and I, who understand and empathize, and are cheering you on along the way.

B.L. Acker

Don't Say 'It Could Be Worse' to Someone With Anxiety

One of the more popular dismissive comments people throw out when talking to someone who lives with mental illness is that “it could always be worse.” It is also sometimes presented as a harsh reminder that “other people have it worse” to remind us that we aren’t suffering as badly as others. Hearing someone say that is always guaranteed to make me cringe because not only does it minimize our experiences, but it also eludes to the fact that they are suggesting that only one person — the one who has it the absolute worst of all — has any right to complain or to talk about their illness at all. I can almost imagine all of the mentally ill people of the world trying to wage combat with each other from our beds, Highlander-style, half-heartedly throwing old tissues in each others’ directions or that half-sandwich from our bedside table that we never managed to eat because we have no appetite today. There can be only one after all, right? It would be a battle for the millennia — mostly since it would take a millennium to complete because so many of us just don’t have the energy or the motivation to even get up to pee, let alone battle each other to become “ Mental Illness Survivor Supreme.” Perhaps one of the most ridiculous times to throw out those phrases is when someone tells a person with an anxiety disorder that things could always be worse — as if it is something we don’t already know. I always want to look them dead in the eye and say, “thank you, Captain Obvious!” I’m acutely aware that things could always be much, much worse — more than you could ever imagine. My mind frequently races ahead before I even make a decision, forecasting possible outcomes so I can prepare myself for what may be to come. Before moving forward, I have already considered dozens of different ways I could crash and burn or make things worse. Thanks to my anxiety disorder, I’m always extremely aware of each and every way things could be worse than they are right now because my mind has already dredged through each and every scenario imaginable. To make matters worse, every single one of those situations my mind latches onto doesn’t just feel possible, but downright probable. My body will sometimes even start to react as if those horrible things have already happened before I have even set myself in motion down that path. If I have had negative issues with someone, something, or somewhere in the past, I will feel certain that history will repeat itself and it is likely to happen again, and that overwhelming panic will set in. I can’t go, I can’t move, I’m frozen like a deer in the headlights because I have already played out the worst of the worst in my mind and my mind, in turn, has determined those fears to be warranted and true. As far as other people “having it worse” goes — trust me, I have considered that ad nauseam as well. When my mind starts spiraling downwards at record speeds like a skydiver without a parachute, it latches onto every single story I have heard of how things have been worse for others and predict that to be my fate, as well. My anxiety is like the blob from that old 1950s Steve McQueen movie where the monster engulfs and absorbs everything it touches, continually growing and expanding. Except there is no defeating this monster for me. The best I can do is try to find ways to coexist with it, to keep one foot grounded in reality, and to try to never intentionally feed it or make it grow any more than my mind already does on its own. It is not something I am ever doing intentionally. I wish I could shut it off. I wish I wasn’t always on the verge of panic setting in, especially about situations that haven’t even occurred yet. But it is a part of my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) , one of a small handful of mental illnesses I have been diagnosed with and deal with every single day that also includes major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I am in a constant battle with my own mind. It is a never-ending, exhausting battle where I am always fighting myself to ascertain reality from the illnesses waging war in my head. So, please excuse me if I don’t readily and gleefully agree with you that yes, it could always be worse, or that I don’t want to fight anyone else for the honor of being the absolute worst case of all. There can be and there is more than one person struggling — more like one in every five people. None of us have to justify to you or anyone else that our illness is worth acknowledging on some imaginary ruler or scale that someone else wants to use to measure and quantify our pain. The fact that we are struggling and suffering is reason enough to have our battles and illnesses acknowledged and treated. If you truly want to be helpful, then instead of judging us and minimizing our experiences, try actually being compassionate and supportive. Otherwise, please keep your unkind and unhelpful opinions to yourself because we’re too busy fighting our own battles to argue with you, too.

B.L. Acker

How COVID-19 Helped Me Realize I Needed Better Friends

I lost a handful of friends during the last year as a direct result of their response to the pandemic itself, whether it be their flippant attitude toward COVID-19 or their outright denial the pandemic even existed at all. I had one so-called friend go so far as to outrightly state he believed “the elderly and immunocompromised were acceptable losses if it meant reopening the country and bolstering the economy.” I couldn’t even bring myself to argue or debate his point of view with him — I just unfriended him and ceased all contact then and there. It was during the height of the pandemic in New York at that time, before immunizations were even available. While much of the rest of the country had only begun to have COVID-19 cases appearing, my local news was full of daily stories of refrigerated trucks full of bodies because the morgues were overflowing. Nursing homes were on lockdown as seniors died left and right. On a more personal level, my husband’s elderly aunt had just been diagnosed. One of my husband’s mother’s longtime friends had already been hospitalized in the intensive care unit (ICU) for a month with COVID, with another month yet to go before she finally came home. Between my husband and I during those first few early months in New York, we personally knew of over a dozen people who had contracted it, and only three had survived. As the months went on, the numbers of people we knew, both of those diagnosed and those who died, continued to grow exponentially. In that first year, one of my husband’s friends lost three cousins within one week, and a woman I used to cheerlead with when we were kids lost both of her parents within days. Nevermind the fact I myself am considered high risk due to the tumors on my brain. He knew of my diagnosis, yet either it slipped his mind entirely I was among those he felt were expendable, or in his eyes, my life and other lives like mine were worth sacrificing to keep prices down and the stock market up. Either way, in that instant it was clear he didn’t truly see me as a friend, or as someone whose life held any value at all. Of all the friends I lost over the course of the pandemic regarding COVID-19 itself, that one stung the most. The friends who believed COVID was a hoax or no worse than the flu were all taking issue with science itself, not me in particular. To hear him argue I was expendable, that he considered some of my loved ones to be expendable, that he’d consider any life at all to be worth throwing away for the sake of a small boost to the economy was honestly heart-wrenching. Thankfully, I had other friends who were more supportive and caring, friends who would check in periodically to see how I was feeling and who understood fully why I stayed home more often than not even after things began to open back up. It wasn’t about being afraid of a virus because I had seen all too well what COVID was capable of doing. It was about accepting I was among a vulnerable group of people and taking whatever precautions I felt were necessary to keep myself safe. I still find myself sad thinking about the loss of that friendship and others like it. However, I know in my heart I would not have been an acceptable loss. None of those we knew who survived would have been acceptable losses, either, had they died. And all those who did ultimately die were absolutely not acceptable losses. The only acceptable loss in my opinion in that situation was that friendship. Even if he realized after the fact what he had said and apologized, I don’t think I ever could forgive nor could I forget because in that moment, he showed me exactly where I stood with him. And when someone shows you who they are, you should believe them.

B.L. Acker

The Miscarriage in 'Midnight Mass' Is an All-Too-Real Horror for Many

Recently, a new miniseries premiered on Netflix called “Midnight Mass.” It has garnered a lot of attention, with many struggling to define precisely what it is. I have seen it described as a religious drama, a supernatural horror, and a thriller. I honestly don’t think any of those descriptions are wrong. Perhaps they are all right, especially when tied together. However, while multitudes have tuned in for the supernatural storyline, there was another, much more natural storyline within that resonated with me much more deeply. Warning: Spoilers Ahead. Towards the beginning of “Midnight Mass,” we meet the character Erin Greene, played by Kate Siegel. She is first introduced as the childhood sweetheart of another prominent character in the series. As the story unfolds, we learn that both characters have fairly recently returned to their hometown, a small island that relies heavily on the fishing trade for its residents’ survival and prosperity. Erin Greene herself has returned home after leaving an abusive marriage. In one of her first scenes, it is revealed she is approximately 20 weeks pregnant, already beginning to show. Despite the prospect of potentially raising her child alone, she happily attends a prenatal exam, listening to her baby’s heartbeat and catching glimpses of her through an ultrasound. In another scene, she can be seen helping assemble a crib for her child. She is often seen absentmindedly but lovingly cradling her stomach with her hand. It is clear that, no matter how this baby was conceived, Erin is looking forward to her arrival and will be a loving, doting parent. And then the unthinkable happens. One day she is pregnant. The next, she is sitting on an exam table and her doctor is telling her that she cannot find the baby’s heartbeat. Distraught, Erin asks her to check again. Nothing. In utter disbelief, she goes to the mainland for a second opinion. There is no heartbeat. There is no baby. As I sat there watching this portion of the storyline develop, a lump grew in my throat. A giant pit began to grow in my stomach. My eyes welled up with tears. Because I have been exactly where she was, pregnant and excitedly planning for my unborn baby’s arrival one day, and with an empty womb the next. Except it wasn’t some supernatural force that invaded my womb and took my baby from me. It was appendicitis. I was six-and-a-half months along. My then-husband and I had picked out a name and a theme for decorating our new baby’s room. Friends and family were excited to meet our upcoming little bundle of joy. Prenatal visits all went well. Our baby was healthy and would be with us soon. And then the unthinkable happened. It started as a cramp in my side. I initially shrugged it off as growing pains from my body expanding to meet the needs of the growing fetus inside me. As the pain slowly started to increase in intensity, I wondered if perhaps I had slept wrong, pulled something, or if my baby was oddly positioned and hitting a pressure point. At one point, I began to pace throughout my apartment, hoping to “walk it off,” much like my coaches and gym teachers years ago used to suggest when dealing with cramps. Eventually, the pain grew too steady to ignore and I went to the emergency room. Please know that at no time did I fear for the safety of my unborn child. My cramps and pain were in my side, away from my uterus. I could feel my son actively wriggling and kicking inside me like he did every morning of late. I had honestly experienced worse cramps in my side following rigorous workouts in the past. I had no reason to fear for my baby’s life. I went to the emergency room merely as a precaution because the pain had grown steady and persistent. It was appendicitis. My blood pressure was dangerously low. I didn’t even realize how pale I had become. I had just thought it was a cramp in my side. I was rushed to surgery before my appendix burst. As I counted backward, waiting for the anesthesia to take effect, I was pregnant and my baby was fine. When I woke up, he was not. One day I was joyfully pregnant, the next day, I was not. Much like Erin Greene’s character, they could find no heartbeat. The ultrasound could pick up nothing, as well. And much like Erin Greene, I tearfully pleaded with my doctor to check again. I asked for other doctors and nurses to check, as well. No matter how many times anyone checked, the result remained the same. It seemed impossible. He was just there. He was fine. He was healthy. We had a name. We had a crib. Everyone was expecting him. This wasn’t supposed to happen. None of this made sense. My mind raced, trying to make sense of it all, but I was at a complete loss. I couldn’t make sense of any of it. As I watched Erin Greene’s character in the aftermath of her great loss discussing her views on death, even that resonated deeply with me. When asked what she thought happened when you die, she spoke not of her own death, but of her daughter’s. She spoke of envisioning a heaven where her baby could live on, surrounded by love. She described a beautiful place where one day she could be with her baby again, see her, hold her, and they could finally be a happy family together. I know those feelings all too well. Though I have struggled with my faith over the years, I was raised Episcopalian. Grasping at straws in the aftermath of my own great loss, the idea that there might exist a heaven where my son could live on and I could one day meet him was one of the few slivers of hope I clung desperately to in those darkest of days. It was easier to accept than that he was just gone. Dead. Even the way other characters in “Midnight Mass” reacted to Erin Greene’s loss was completely relatable. I know all too well how those awkward apologies for my loss feel, those downcast eyes when they feel so bad for you that they cannot even meet your gaze. Even worse are those situations where people don’t even acknowledge your loss, acting as if you were never pregnant, as if your baby never existed at all. In those moments, you feel like you’re losing your mind and the world is completely upside down. You want to grab ahold of them and shake them, scream in their faces, scream right at them. You want to demand that your baby was real, demand they acknowledge that fact, demand they reassure you that you’re not “crazy.” But the reality is that they’re gone. Nothing you could say or do would bring them back. Life goes on. Everyone else continues living around you while you’re stuck in this living nightmare that just doesn’t make sense. As painfully nonsensical as it feels, at some point you have to accept that it is what it is and continue living yourself, even though the very idea of it breaks your heart to pieces. Many people, myself included, tuned into Netflix’s miniseries “Midnight Mass” not knowing exactly what to expect. A religious drama, a supernatural horror, a thriller perhaps. What I was not expecting, though, was how deeply one small part of the storyline would resonate with me. That part of the story was not fictitious, at least not to me. While the underlying cause of the loss was obviously different, the end result was exactly the same. Her performance in the aftermath of her loss felt completely genuine and believable. I know because I lived through it, too.

B.L. Acker

How My Husband and I Support Each Other With Depression

My husband and I both live with mental illness diagnoses, his being bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mine being major depression , generalized anxiety disorder  (GAD), and PTSD. Though our overall official diagnoses may be somewhat different, we both know all too well what it is like to live with chronic, persistent depression. While depression is admittedly not easy for anyone at any point, the last few weeks have been particularly hard on both of us. The sheer number of things on our plate right now feel overwhelming. We are looking at having to move in the next few months because our landlord wants to sell the house we live in, the first stable home either of us has had in a long time. This is further impacted by the fact housing prices have skyrocketed in our area and we cannot find anything else affordable within our price range. We have been struggling financially for some time now due to our inability to work regularly and reliably in large part because of the unpredictability of our mental illnesses. Our bills have admittedly been piling up faster than we can address them. The little work we have managed to do, including my occasional paid writing gigs, has been spotty at best and has been further hindered by our complete lack of motivation due to our depression. What little outside assistance and support we do have has been slim and sporadic, and we have virtually no safety net to catch us if we fall. We have had both new and ongoing struggles with the required paperwork to maintain outside assistance to remain somewhat on our feet, as well as coverage for our ever-mounting health issues which extend beyond our mental health diagnoses. We both have other serious health issues we need to continually address, including my brain tumors and his back, neck, and shoulder issues that date back to an old work injury. Admittedly, neither of us has been feeling particularly well lately, mentally or physically on multiple fronts, including but not limited to mental health struggles, chronic pain flare ups, and persistent digestive issues for both of us. Due to lack of finances, we have ongoing problems with reliable transportation, making going anywhere including doctors appointments an issue. We have had multiple friends pass away in the last month or so. Reminders of the anniversaries of multiple losses from previous years keep crossing our social media timelines seemingly back to back as well. Just this past week alone, my husband was reminded one day of his grandmother’s death 16 years ago, and the very next day was the 11th anniversary of my father’s passing. That overwhelming sense of continuous loss and grief, both old and new, is beginning to feel never-ending. We both have barely seen or spoken to our adult children lately due to their seemingly ever hectic work schedules, college classes, and social lives, often leaving us to feel like we’re bothering them or being a burden whenever we reach out to touch base. For that matter, largely due to transportation, financial, and pandemic-related reasons, we haven’t spent time with the vast majority of our friends or family at all in months, if not well over a year, and the few we have seen have been few and far between. Add to all of that the day to day stresses of pandemic life and other, often polarizing, divisive, ongoing strife in our nation, and it is no wonder everything is feeling overwhelming for us at the moment. We have been feeling regularly sad, angry, frustrated, anxious, isolated, exhausted, overly emotional, and completely numb in ever-revolving waves. I do not share the multitude of our issues for sympathy or scorekeeping because I don’t personally believe you can quantify any one person’s struggles and fairly or reasonably weigh them against another’s, but rather to illustrate how life sometimes continuously piles upon itself, making a diagnosis like depression that isn’t easy at any time feel increasingly worse. To say we both are struggling right now is an understatement of epic proportions. Depression has kicked into high gear for both of us. The last few weeks have honestly blended together in a depression-fueled fog for both my husband and myself. Somehow, we have managed to keep going together, one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time. No matter how much the stress of the world seems to pile up around us, we still find some sense of solace in each other. It got me thinking — how are we managing to keep going, despite what feels like ever-increasing, seemingly insurmountable odds? What things are we doing for each other and with each other as a couple, especially when the symptoms of our depression have flared up and reared their ugly heads, that have helped us to continue to fight and carry on? I spoke with my husband, sharing my thoughts on writing such a piece, not only from my own perspective, but with his insight, as well. I posed the question to him: What do we do, as a couple, when we are both in the depths of our depression, to be supportive to each other and to keep going together? My Husband: We try to be aware of how we’re both doing on a daily basis, doing our best to adjust and adapt when needed, doling out extra hugs, spending extra time, trying to be understanding with each other. It’s particularly hard when we’re not on the same page. There are days I am extra agitated and aggravated, or days when you are extremely emotional and we struggle to see eye to eye. We also do our best to pump the brakes before bad situations escalate further. There are times we have to catch ourselves and accept what we may be feeling isn’t reality, but is within our head — the depression, anxiety , chemicals, emotions getting the better of us. We have to address both what is going on and what we are feeling, even if they are two separate things. Me: When we talk about how we’re feeling, we’ve been trying to use more “I feel” statements instead of statements that place blame on each other. We both are aware that, due to our mental illnesses, our emotions are sometimes over the top and our reactions unpredictable or unwarranted, so we try our best to express and own how we are personally feeling in the moment, so that we can better understand where we are both coming from. My Husband: Really bad days, we deem f*** it days. We’ve had a lot of those lately, days where we have no drive, desire, ambition, or motivation. On those days, we really lean into each other. We’ll put on music or movies and just curl up on the couch together. Turn off the world. It becomes about self-care and making it through the day. Me: You really are my rock. There are days I’m not sure I could get through without you. Days when you’re my peace, my comfort, my reason to keep going. My Husband: Ditto. There are days I couldn’t function without you — what little functioning there is. But yeah, there are days you’re why I get out of bed. Me: I love when you laugh. Laughter is important, even on the bad days, especially on the bad days. We’re playful with each other a lot, but never mean-spirited. Our goal is always to lighten the mood, make each other smile and feel better, not to hurt feelings or make anything worse. We are always trying to make things better for each other however we can. We’ve also been trying to stock up on healthier snacks, especially for those bad days, because there are days we have no desire at all to eat, so we just graze because we know we have to eat something. Or days we just make simple bare bones meals. But we make a point of trying to eat at least once a day, usually dinner, and we always sit down together to do so. My Husband: We try to prioritize each other on a regular basis, even if we’ve shut off everything else, whether it’s taking five minutes to sit down and talk or hold each other, or going for a walk together. It may seem inconsequential to some, but the way we struggle sometimes on a day to day basis, we’ve learned those little moments mean a great deal and help a ton. Me: I can’t walk past you without wanting to hug you, touch you, just have some sort of physical connection with you, even if just for a moment. We’ve gone as far as moving our computer desks next to each other, so that even if we’re both doing our own thing, we are still within reach of each other, if nothing more than to squeeze each other’s hand, or lean in for a hug or kiss throughout the day. There’s power and comfort in that connection and physical presence. It gives me reassurance that no matter what, you are here, I’m not alone, that we’re in this together. My Husband: With the way things have been lately, even the most menial of tasks have been a struggle for us. Just getting out of bed, taking a shower, doing the dishes, housework in general. So we try to do it together. It sucks that we struggle as much as we do, but at least we have each other. Me: Paper plates are also a godsend. And you humor me a lot with seemingly silly stuff. Both crafting and holidays in general are a part of my coping mechanism and you know this. You don’t bat an eye at me whipping out some clay and paints to make something when inspiration hits. You don’t complain when I want to put up decorations, even if it is over a month early, because you know that it helps put me in a better place. You have your models, your RC cars, your computers, and other things that are your own happy place. I try to encourage and support whatever helps you as well. We don’t judge each other for what helps us get through our hard times. All that matters is it helps. My Husband: We try to be there for each other as much as we possibly can, even if it sometimes means taking away from ourselves to do so. It becomes a balancing act, trying to make sure both of our needs are met and that neither one of us feels alone. At the end of the day, we’re there for each other no matter what. One person living with depression sometimes feels rough beyond words. Being part of a couple where both parties have depression might seem impossibly hard, but we have found ways to make it work and to be there for each other. I’m not by any means saying we have all the answers, because I don’t believe anyone truly does. It’s all subjective and every person, every couple, is different. But we have found this works for us. A little patience, kindness, compassion, and empathy, sprinkled with some self-care, can go a long way toward making a difference. Communication with each other is also key. While it may not resolve any of the ongoing issues that may be making depression symptoms feel worse, mutual support and encouragement can help you both continue on day to day together.

B.L. Acker

Aphantasia and Mental Health: I Can't Picture Things in My Mind

Aphantasia is a condition where you cannot visualize — in effect, you are “blind” in your mind’s eye. When most people are told to imagine an apple, they close their eyes and can actually see an apple in their mind. However, due to my aphantasia , when I close my eyes, I see nothing but darkness. So instead of images, my aphant mind connects words. When told to imagine an apple, my mind races to retrieve everything I know about apples, from their color, shape, size and taste, to things you can do with apples, stories that involve apples, pretty much anything apple-related. Admittedly, aphantasia is still a fairly new condition to be officially recognized by doctors and scientists, so there isn’t an abundance of information and data to be found, and research to better understand the condition is still being gathered. Nevertheless, wanting to better understand what makes my mind work differently from the majority of other people’s, I have frequently talked to friends and family to better understand what things are like through their eyes and in their own mind’s eye. From how it has been explained to me, when most people are told to close their eyes and imagine an apple, they simply see the apple and, if nothing more is asked of them, they conclude the exercise to be over and done with, and release the apple from their mind. That is something I cannot simply do. When asked to close my eyes and consciously imagine an apple, my mind goes into a state of information overload of everything I know about apples. I cannot help but believe that this dash to connect my mind to everything even remotely associated with the topic at hand plays a big part in how my mental illness presents itself, creating a perfect storm that often escalates and intensifies my condition. I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder ( MDD ) , generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Each one presents differently and they are frequently at odds with each other as I transition from one to another and back again. However, with all three, I often find myself trapped within periods of emotional overload, where my mind traverses a seemingly never-ending labyrinth of thoughts, feelings and memories that my mind has fashioned together as one. I believe this is due in part to my aphantasia . I have major depression . When I am spiraling downward, my aphant mind will often seek out and cling to a myriad of reasons I should hate myself and beat myself up, looking to connect thoughts and experiences that seem to fit in the moment. I have seen little cartoons illustrating how depression can keep a person up at night by haunting them with reliving one specific moment from their past. My mind never stops at one. There are many, linked in a daisy chain of pain, sadness, trauma and regret.  When I begin to spiral down into depression , my mind jumps from event to event, giving me even more ammunition for self-loathing. I have a generalized anxiety disorder . When my anxiety peaks, my aphant mind races to search for every catastrophic thing that might go wrong based on prior experiences or stories I’ve heard, giving my mind even more to worry about than the original topic at hand. As my mind races, every potential catastrophe that materializes in my mind feels not only possible, but probable. The ongoing quick and steady barrage often leaves me in a frazzled, frozen state of panic, where my chest is tight and heavy, and I struggle to function at all. I have been diagnosed with PTSD. Because my aphant mind looks to link things and make connections wherever possible, new traumas are frequently attached to old, increasing the magnitude of both so that even seemingly small new traumas carry with them the weight of old ones, and old traumas often feel fresh and raw again whenever something new happens. I have had people tell me that I cannot heal from old wounds if I keep dredging them up, reopening them and making them raw and fresh again. However, it is not anything I am doing intentionally. My brain itself has linked my traumas together. Addressing the newest trauma is like pulling on a magician’s handkerchief — if you pull one out, one by one all the rest will follow. I cannot select just one and be done with it. Since aphantasia is a fairly newly recognized condition, there really isn’t much information readily available about the condition, particularly as it applies to mental illness , which leaves me virtually on my own to try and understand how it affects my condition. From speaking to many others, I’ve come to realize, on average, things do present differently than they do for many others, particularly those with a mental illness diagnosis. I wouldn’t say worse because I don’t believe in quantifying, comparing and ranking other people’s pain and suffering, but definitely different. I am never looking for ways to make my depression worse, nor am I intentionally looking for more to be anxious about, nor do I wish to retraumatize myself or magnify my conditions in any way. I believe it is simply how my aphant mind works, racing to make connections, and to link my thoughts and experiences together. My mind is fueled by words and my mental illness always has a lot to say.