Heather R. Stephens

@hrstephens | contributor
H.R. Stephens is a writer currently living in Southern California. Since being diagnosed with multiple disabling conditions, she has striven to find the quiet place in her heart where she can explore her creative potential. On good days, if she isn’t writing or caring for her family, she is reading or engaged in other nerdy pursuits.

Learning to Ask for Help With Mental Illness

At the age of 30, I have now been dealing with mental illness for over half of my life. I was diagnosed at 12 and spent a lot of time in an adolescent psychiatric unit on an inpatient basis. I was in there for 10 days the first time. What I learned in those first dark days of grappling with the fact that I had mental illness was that it is OK to ask for help. I am so grateful I learned that lesson because when I was 25 I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, after already being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I had two debilitating physical conditions to add on top of the mental health diagnosis I already had. It was too much to bear. Depending on your upbringing, and the biases you already have when you begin your struggle with mental illness or physical disabilities, you may feel an obligation to struggle alone. Whether you fear judgment from your peers that you’re simply not trying hard enough, or you don’t want to be a “burden” on your family, you may not want to be open about your struggle. You may feel embarrassed to ask your sister to come over and help you tidy up the house. But imagine this: you’re in the throes of a depressive episode, you haven’t showered in a week and the dirty dishes are piling up. Your house has fruit flies. Before this episode struck, your apartment was usually spotless and organized, but you just lost control of it all and now you’re completely overwhelmed. Does that sound familiar? It does to me. So many times over the last 10 years I’ve found myself in that exact position. When I lived close to my friend, Amy, she would come do my dishes for me and sit with my baby (who is now 10) while I took a shower. When I got out I felt so much better. I was able to perform better at work. I was also able to concentrate on being the best mother I could be because I wasn’t so worried about how my apartment or I smelled. It is important to ask for help when you need it. Not only will it help you regain control of your life, even in small ways, but it could also help your state of mind. Who can feel at their best when their hair is knotted and greasy? Sometimes due to my multiple sclerosis, I cannot grip a hairbrush or raise my arms to wash my hair. I have to ask my husband to do it for me. I still feel like a burden sometimes. When my husband works all day (he works from home), and then I ask him to please wash my hair, I feel like I’m taking from him his only time to relax. It makes me feel a sort of heaviness, a burden I don’t even know if I can bear. And then I sink further into depression. But asking for help is sometimes the best way to practice self-care. Executive dysfunction may take away your ability to you know “do the thing,” but more often than not it only takes a bit of courage (not competence) to ask for help doing it. The difference is subtle. If you are a parent, the importance of asking for help is tenfold. By asking for help, even from your kids (when they’re old enough to safely help you), you teach them it is OK for them to ask for help when they need it. You’ll teach them they don’t have to struggle alone. Be an example and show them the power of community. It will teach them empathy, compassion and a valuable people skill. Ironically, when I need help asking for help, I look to the following quotes for inspiration. Hopefully, they’re as helpful to you as they are to me. Asking for help isn’t weak, it’s a great example of how to take care of yourself. – Charlie Brown Sometimes in life, you can fall down holes you can’t climb out of by yourself. That’s what friends and family are for—to help. They can’t help, however, unless you let them know you’re down there. – Meg Cabot You are never strong enough that you don’t need  – Cesar Chavez The best advice I can give to anyone going through a rough patch is to never be afraid to ask for help. – Demi Lovato

Community Voices

Feeling Overwhelmed

So often when I'm in a depressive episode, I don't have the patience or ability to give enough of myself. Even though my kids love me no matter what, I try so hard to just squeak by with my head above the water, and often that leaves me feeling like a failure as a mom.

I've found that being a mom is a lot easier when I'm in a good place mentally. When I've taken the time to take care of myself. Brushing my hair and teeth sometimes is enough to make me feel like I have more, or at least ENOUGH, to give.

Take the time, if you can, to take care of yourself. Your kids will thank you for it.

7 people are talking about this
Community Voices

Feeling Overwhelmed

So often when I'm in a depressive episode, I don't have the patience or ability to give enough of myself. Even though my kids love me no matter what, I try so hard to just squeak by with my head above the water, and often that leaves me feeling like a failure as a mom.

I've found that being a mom is a lot easier when I'm in a good place mentally. When I've taken the time to take care of myself. Brushing my hair and teeth sometimes is enough to make me feel like I have more, or at least ENOUGH, to give.

Take the time, if you can, to take care of yourself. Your kids will thank you for it.

7 people are talking about this
Community Voices

Writing and Anxiety

Wanting to be a novelist when you suffer from anxiety is TOUGH. Too many intrusive thoughts about the possibilities of failure. But what matters is that I keep writing anyway.

1 person is talking about this

Why Social Anxiety Makes Me Feel So Isolated

The thing about anxiety is that it does not care how strongly you’re able to intellectualize the reality of your unease. It doesn’t matter how irrational your trigger, anxiety will overcome you, even if it’s only for a moment. At least that’s how it is for me. I’ve been dealing with anxiety my entire life. Generalized anxiety disorder is my current diagnosis, but social anxiety is the one that has shaped my entire adolescence. I couldn’t order food at restaurants until I was 18. I couldn’t ask for help from teachers until my second attempt at college. My perceived incompetence was debilitating. When I entered my 20s I was faced with bearing children and forays into employment. From these experiences, I learned I was more capable than I thought at many things, but learned that socializing was not one of them. It felt like I would never be able to grab drinks with coworkers after work. I would never sip mimosas with my girlfriends at brunch — mostly because I didn’t have any girlfriends. And I would never take selfies with my bestie and post them for 324 likes on social media. I didn’t know how to have friends then and I still don’t know how to have friends now. That isn’t to say that I don’t have any friends. I have 253 of them on Facebook and two I consider my best friends. The truth is, the internet became my sanctuary. Instead of undertaking the daunting task of forging friendships in the real world, I hid in my bedroom behind a computer screen. Meeting people online has been the only way for me to create friendships that really matter. For me, social anxiety is like glue keeping a mask on my face. I don’t have to wear a mask online. The distance and the pixels on the computer screen are protection enough. I don’t have to make eye contact with someone when I’m tapping out a message on Messenger. I don’t even have to be paying that much attention. I can multitask in my own world. While socializing on the internet, I can play music as loudly as I want, I can spend time with my family and can layer as many filters over my socialization as I need to make it more palatable for me. But the worst thing about social anxiety is the paranoia. According to WebMD, “People with social anxiety disorder suffer from distorted thinking, including false beliefs about social situations and the negative opinions of others.” This is something I’ve struggled with my entire life and has painted my perception of others from the moment they enter my life. Sometimes I fear my friends more than I fear imaginary rebukes from strangers . For example, if I find a friend attractive I will attempt to insert myself into their view as much as possible so I can gauge our interactions. Do they like me back? Are we going to be best friends? Will they value me as I value them ? But then I find something small I disagree with. It could be my opinion on something that might not be important to most people, like the toilet paper over/under debate. It really doesn’t matter what it is. I fear this one tiny difference will unravel the entire friendship. And the part that gets me the most is I won’t even perceive myself as being the one with the problem. I might feel in my heart that my differences are beautiful but my anxiety will convince me the other person will find them revolting. With any trivial difference of opinion, I will find myself in despair. I will think about it at night. I will start having paranoid delusions and will second-guess all my social media posts over the last 24 hours to see if I said something that might anger the other person. I am so terrified of being abandoned that I isolate myself. In these moments of social anxiety, I will have totally convinced myself that having a homogeneous hive mind is essential to having lasting camaraderie with others. And I know this doesn’t make a single lick of sense. Essentially, I feel that if I can’t relate to someone 100 percent, the friendship is not meant to last. So I abandon it. I do to others what I fear most will happen to me. I impose isolation on myself and it makes me miserable. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 15 million people in this country have social anxiety, and yet 36 percent of them wait 10 or more years before seeking help for it. I have no answers for why this is, but I do wonder if it is because we fear being labeled unnatural. Socialization is one of the first things we learn to do as babies. I know different people socialize in different ways, but sometimes I feel like an alien. I have experienced real friendships, but even those seem to be on the precipice. I am always worried my friends are holding back, refusing to close the emotional distance because I am not a valuable friend. The projections I thrust onto my friends are not healthy in any form. It is my personal battle to find the balance between trusting my friends’ affections and expecting them to express satisfaction in our relationship. Coping skills are essential for people with any form of anxiety. They are a way to intellectualize the fear that grips us. But intellectualizing can only go so far. I perceive it as a bit of a paradox. T he knowledge about anxiety is there in my brain along with the chemicals causing the anxiety, so where are the wires getting crossed? If you tell me the problem is all in my head, you are correct. But the solution is in there too. Why isn’t that manifesting itself as well? Ultimately, I want to find a way to quiet the static in my mind and calm the heart that roars within whenever anxiety decides to strike. I want to find a way to make peace. I want to finally feel like a human being on earth instead of an alien attempting to make contact with people I could never hope to understand. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.