Tracy Riggs

@spotlightonstigma | contributor
Tracy Riggs is a professional photographer and writer. She deals with several invisible illnesses in her and loved ones' lives and is passionate about lessening the stigma of these conditions and has created a blog, Spotlight on Stigma, to help share that message. She has one daughter in college and is in a steady relationship with a fellow photographer. Check out her blog at www.spotlightonstigma.com and/or join the Spotlight on Stigma group on Facebook. You can see her photography at www.NovelPhotos.com.
Community Voices

Update on "Perplexing Depression Symptom" Post

On September 4, 2019, I blogged about my depression: www.spotlightonstigma.com/2019/09/perplexing-depression-symptom.html

Earlier this week, I was working out IN THE POOL and happened to remember that post. I just wanted to do a quick update.

Things CAN get better. It’s now almost exactly two years later and I have been consistently going to the pool on average twice a week since last July (with the one exception of a time when a major ankle injury sidelined me from even walking for over a month).

The wildest part of this is now I feel still bad if I don’t go – but it’s not a “I feel guilty about not going” bad but an “I miss getting to go” kind of bad. I am now up to working out in the pool for over an hour each time and there are even times I’ve had to stop before I wanted because of scheduling conflicts.

I will admit that it took something as bad as COVID to get me to start going in the first place. As all of us were, I was going stir crazy after being home for a few months. When the Y opened back up on a limited basis, I was ready to get out of the house.

Some of the restrictions the Y had put in place also helped, especially those where you had to make a reservation to swim and it was only available for lap swimmers and not for families/kids (except for the daycare kids as they had stayed opened to provide child care for essential workers even through the quarantine).

This helped me in several ways… I could look over the schedule for the day and see which times had the least number of people, which helps my social anxiety. No kids allow for a more peaceful time in the pool. Needing to commit to a time slot made me plan around it and get up and go when I had it scheduled. (Scheduling it myself had never worked… I needed that level of committing to the organization for this to work.)

At first, it was still difficult. The self-talk about it not helping because I’m so incredibly out of shape ran through my head a lot. It took a lot of willpower to stay in for only 30 minutes. There were several times I had a hard time making myself go and a few times I still didn’t make it.

The shift in my thinking was gradual but it was amazing when I realized it. I have always enjoyed the pool but even that knowledge didn’t overcome the part of depression that makes you no longer enjoy the things you love to do.

Now, though, it’s different. It’s hard to explain but I guess it’s a shift of thinking how I “needed to go,” vs now thinking “I get to go.” Instead of one of the tasks I knew I needed to accomplish for my health, it’s now part of my self-care.

With this, I’m not saying I still don’t struggle with depression and its effects. I’m not trying to guilt those who are still in the stage I was when I couldn’t make myself get to the pool at all. In fact, just last week was very hard in this respect and it took everything I had in me to do the basic daily tasks… but this time it was a priority to get to the pool for a different reason and I still made it there.

So what I’m saying is that you should keep trying… keep fighting. You just don’t know when a breakthrough will come and something that is such a struggle now will become an indescribable joy.

Tracy Riggs

Why Saying 'You Can Do Anything If You Try Hard Enough' Is Harmful

With the Paralympics just finishing, I hear it even more than usual: “You can do anything if you try hard enough.” This is simply not true and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. I was interviewing a mom whose daughter has a very rare condition with multiple physical and mental impairments and she mentioned this too. She realizes that her daughter can make great strides and do great things but can’t “be anything she wants.” I love her realistic attitude. When I was young, I first thought about this, ironically, concerning fair employment practices and acting. I knew that an employer was supposed to consider each candidate equally for a position. But how did that work if the part was obviously for a child and the one who wanted it was a senior citizen? In the times we live in, it would be possible to do make-up or CGI to make that elderly person into one much younger, but in most cases, it would be cost-prohibitive and frankly, unnecessary. My daughter is a good example of someone who has a great aptitude to do work that physically she can’t do. Yes, I’m biased, but she has incredible potential to be a great cinematographer. She has an eye for unusual angles and knows the psychology of how a certain type of shot makes you feel. But she has a condition that makes her extremely sensitive to extremes in temperature, especially heat. You know the phrase, “The mind is willing but the body is weak?” She epitomizes that phrase. She would love to work in film but knows her limits. Working 12-hour days on film sets that range from very hot to very cold is not something she can do. Though I believe those with Down syndrome can do so much more than many give them credit for, it’s extremely unlikely that someone with Down syndrome will ever become a top physicist. Even if it’s just the way their education was handled due to our low expectations and not their true capacity, it’s just not going to happen. I’m extremely overweight and have been at least somewhat overweight the majority of my life, plus, I have joint hypermobility syndrome. I never could have been a top gymnast. Between my loose joints and my weight, I wouldn’t have been able to pull off even the most basic skills, much less top-level ones. I could go on and on with other examples but that’s not the point of this post. The point is that we need stop portraying the message that trying hard will lead to success (as society defines it). Instead, we need to focus on helping each person become the best they can be, even if that’s not “the best.” We also need to encourage those who have a dream to think outside of the box. Maybe the original dream isn’t possible, but there may be something similar that is possible that would be just as fulfilling. Indulge me by letting me share one more personal example. I am 53 and have multiple physical and mental conditions that affect my day-to-day life. I’m also a freelance photographer and writer and would love to be the best in my area at what I do. However, I recognize I have limitations and can’t do “anything.” I can’t do 12-hour shoots due to no longer having enough stamina. I can’t do outdoor shoots in the summer unless they are short and I can have access to something very cold to drink throughout. I can’t climb a lot of stairs or jump onto the bumper of a truck (which I did years ago) to get the best angle for a shot. Some days my depression or brain fog is so bad that I can’t think well enough to sit at a desk and write. Other days my anxiety is so high I have a hard time editing the photos I took because I keep second-guessing myself. I would absolutely love to be a photographer who works for one professional sports team, music group, or performer. But that involves a lot of travel (not good with my mental issues), a lot of unknowns (not good for my anxiety), a lot of physical work (not good with my stamina). No matter how much I want this kind of job and “try hard” to get it, it’s not going to happen. But some examples of I can: work towards getting the best angles and shots within a smaller space so I’m not wearing myself out before a photography session is over schedule summer shoots in the morning or evening, try to put off the shoot until cooler weather, or refer them to another photographer write a lot when I’m mentally able so that when I’m not, I’m not behind unless there’s a tight deadline that’s not in my control, give my clients a later image delivery date than I would like so I can wait to edit if I’m not able to do my best on a certain day set my schedule so that I can take breaks if needed (again, unless there’s a tight deadline) ask for help and accommodations if needed — such as a cold drink on a hot day or an extended deadline for a client who usually has a tight deadline shoot as many professional sports, concerts, and performers as possible who are in my area so that I can take the time needed to recover Sometimes I feel guilty because I can’t do everything I’d like to do as a photographer and writer. I would love to be able to run around and get the best photos possible. I would love to be able to sit down and write any time for as long as I want and know that I won’t have to re-do it later because it made no sense. If you look at my photography and writing you can see that even with these limitations, I do a pretty good job. Is it the best it could possibly be? No. Do I try hard? H*ll, yeah. There’s always something I wish I could do better. I’m not making excuses but my physical and mental limitations are a big part of why I can’t. However, there’s so much that “I can” even if I drop the expectation that it will result in “doing anything.” The message we need to relay is encouragement while being realistic. Though it doesn’t fly off the tongue as well, what about this: “Find a dream that is within or just beyond your skillset, personality, mental and physical abilities, and work hard to achieve that goal. Know that it’s OK if you fall short or need to come up with a different dream, but don’t give up on yourself. Even if you don’t fulfill your dream, your life can be wonderful and meaningful and will be if you don’t give up, not on your dream, but on you.”

Community Voices

My Hero - Simone Biles

It’s something that very few would do… walk away from something they’ve prepared their entire life for, something that could easily disappoint an entire nation, something that many wouldn’t or couldn’t understand.

But Simone Biles did it at this year’s Olympic Games.

According to an article on ESPN.com, Biles said, “Once I came out here [to compete], I was like, ‘No, mental is not there, so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.”

I applaud her courage. I have a hard time letting my #MentalHealth issues get in the way of tasks that could disappoint just one person, much less potentially an entire world of fans.

Biles hasn’t always had it easy or been a star. She has talked about being one of the more than 100 gymnasts abused by Larry Nassar. She had a rough childhood before being adopted by her maternal grandfather and his wife. She had been bullied for her muscular build in high school and then later was hazed by the public when it came out that she was diagnosed with #ADHD.

“Most of you know me as a happy, giggly and energetic girl. But lately … I’ve felt a bit broken and the more I try to shut off the voice in my head the louder it screams,” Biles wrote on her social media (according to the New York Post article).

Those of us who deal with #MentalHealth issues can fully understand. Many of us have wanted to withdraw from something because it was hard on our #MentalHealth, but we were afraid of the repercussions of doing so. We are taught to please others no matter the toll it takes on us.

But while many applauded Biles’ taking care of herself above the expectations of others, there is another important aspect of this story.

“USA Gymnastics released a statement July 27 declaring that Biles’ withdrawal following her vault rotation was due to an unspecified ‘medical issue’ and she would ‘be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions,'” said the New York Post.

This kind of statement just amplifies the stigma that it’s a #MentalHealth issue causing someone to withdraw and not a physical one. Most of the time when an athlete has to leave a competition due to a medical issue, that issue is labeled. For example, a basketball player that can’t play due to a broken ankle would be listed as such, not as an “unspecified medical issue.”

It’s possible that Biles or her coach didn’t want to specify the reason at the time the statement was released. It’s also possible that USA Gymnastics didn’t know the actual reason.

But it’s just as possible that they were trying to cover up that it was “only” a #MentalHealth issue that caused one of the greatest gymnasts of all time to quit right before a major competition.

And that’s wrong.

A symptom like “brain fog” can affect performance as much or more than a broken wrist for an office worker but it’s perfectly acceptable for someone to take sick leave for a broken wrist and not be able to for a #Fibromyalgia flare-up that caused brain fog.

An #Anxiety attack can interfere with a job interview as much as the flu.

#MentalHealth symptoms can be just as debilitating as physical… but so many times we can’t admit when #MentalHealth is the real issue.

We have got to continue efforts to normalize that it’s okay to withdraw from something because of #MentalHealth impairments. We need to recognize that untreated #MentalHealth issues can be just as deadly as physical health issues, sometimes more so.

We need to continue to put a spotlight on the stigmas that affect our daily lives and bring them to light.

Referenced articles:

www.espn.com/olympics/gymnastics/story/_/id/31902290/simone-...

– nypost.com/article/history-of-simone-biles-mental-health-issues

5 people are talking about this
Community Voices

My Hero - Simone Biles

It’s something that very few would do… walk away from something they’ve prepared their entire life for, something that could easily disappoint an entire nation, something that many wouldn’t or couldn’t understand.

But Simone Biles did it at this year’s Olympic Games.

According to an article on ESPN.com, Biles said, “Once I came out here [to compete], I was like, ‘No, mental is not there, so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.”

I applaud her courage. I have a hard time letting my #MentalHealth issues get in the way of tasks that could disappoint just one person, much less potentially an entire world of fans.

Biles hasn’t always had it easy or been a star. She has talked about being one of the more than 100 gymnasts abused by Larry Nassar. She had a rough childhood before being adopted by her maternal grandfather and his wife. She had been bullied for her muscular build in high school and then later was hazed by the public when it came out that she was diagnosed with #ADHD.

“Most of you know me as a happy, giggly and energetic girl. But lately … I’ve felt a bit broken and the more I try to shut off the voice in my head the louder it screams,” Biles wrote on her social media (according to the New York Post article).

Those of us who deal with #MentalHealth issues can fully understand. Many of us have wanted to withdraw from something because it was hard on our #MentalHealth, but we were afraid of the repercussions of doing so. We are taught to please others no matter the toll it takes on us.

But while many applauded Biles’ taking care of herself above the expectations of others, there is another important aspect of this story.

“USA Gymnastics released a statement July 27 declaring that Biles’ withdrawal following her vault rotation was due to an unspecified ‘medical issue’ and she would ‘be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions,'” said the New York Post.

This kind of statement just amplifies the stigma that it’s a #MentalHealth issue causing someone to withdraw and not a physical one. Most of the time when an athlete has to leave a competition due to a medical issue, that issue is labeled. For example, a basketball player that can’t play due to a broken ankle would be listed as such, not as an “unspecified medical issue.”

It’s possible that Biles or her coach didn’t want to specify the reason at the time the statement was released. It’s also possible that USA Gymnastics didn’t know the actual reason.

But it’s just as possible that they were trying to cover up that it was “only” a #MentalHealth issue that caused one of the greatest gymnasts of all time to quit right before a major competition.

And that’s wrong.

A symptom like “brain fog” can affect performance as much or more than a broken wrist for an office worker but it’s perfectly acceptable for someone to take sick leave for a broken wrist and not be able to for a #Fibromyalgia flare-up that caused brain fog.

An #Anxiety attack can interfere with a job interview as much as the flu.

#MentalHealth symptoms can be just as debilitating as physical… but so many times we can’t admit when #MentalHealth is the real issue.

We have got to continue efforts to normalize that it’s okay to withdraw from something because of #MentalHealth impairments. We need to recognize that untreated #MentalHealth issues can be just as deadly as physical health issues, sometimes more so.

We need to continue to put a spotlight on the stigmas that affect our daily lives and bring them to light.

Referenced articles:

www.espn.com/olympics/gymnastics/story/_/id/31902290/simone-...

– nypost.com/article/history-of-simone-biles-mental-health-issues

5 people are talking about this
Community Voices

My Hero - Simone Biles

It’s something that very few would do… walk away from something they’ve prepared their entire life for, something that could easily disappoint an entire nation, something that many wouldn’t or couldn’t understand.

But Simone Biles did it at this year’s Olympic Games.

According to an article on ESPN.com, Biles said, “Once I came out here [to compete], I was like, ‘No, mental is not there, so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.”

I applaud her courage. I have a hard time letting my #MentalHealth issues get in the way of tasks that could disappoint just one person, much less potentially an entire world of fans.

Biles hasn’t always had it easy or been a star. She has talked about being one of the more than 100 gymnasts abused by Larry Nassar. She had a rough childhood before being adopted by her maternal grandfather and his wife. She had been bullied for her muscular build in high school and then later was hazed by the public when it came out that she was diagnosed with #ADHD.

“Most of you know me as a happy, giggly and energetic girl. But lately … I’ve felt a bit broken and the more I try to shut off the voice in my head the louder it screams,” Biles wrote on her social media (according to the New York Post article).

Those of us who deal with #MentalHealth issues can fully understand. Many of us have wanted to withdraw from something because it was hard on our #MentalHealth, but we were afraid of the repercussions of doing so. We are taught to please others no matter the toll it takes on us.

But while many applauded Biles’ taking care of herself above the expectations of others, there is another important aspect of this story.

“USA Gymnastics released a statement July 27 declaring that Biles’ withdrawal following her vault rotation was due to an unspecified ‘medical issue’ and she would ‘be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions,'” said the New York Post.

This kind of statement just amplifies the stigma that it’s a #MentalHealth issue causing someone to withdraw and not a physical one. Most of the time when an athlete has to leave a competition due to a medical issue, that issue is labeled. For example, a basketball player that can’t play due to a broken ankle would be listed as such, not as an “unspecified medical issue.”

It’s possible that Biles or her coach didn’t want to specify the reason at the time the statement was released. It’s also possible that USA Gymnastics didn’t know the actual reason.

But it’s just as possible that they were trying to cover up that it was “only” a #MentalHealth issue that caused one of the greatest gymnasts of all time to quit right before a major competition.

And that’s wrong.

A symptom like “brain fog” can affect performance as much or more than a broken wrist for an office worker but it’s perfectly acceptable for someone to take sick leave for a broken wrist and not be able to for a #Fibromyalgia flare-up that caused brain fog.

An #Anxiety attack can interfere with a job interview as much as the flu.

#MentalHealth symptoms can be just as debilitating as physical… but so many times we can’t admit when #MentalHealth is the real issue.

We have got to continue efforts to normalize that it’s okay to withdraw from something because of #MentalHealth impairments. We need to recognize that untreated #MentalHealth issues can be just as deadly as physical health issues, sometimes more so.

We need to continue to put a spotlight on the stigmas that affect our daily lives and bring them to light.

Referenced articles:

www.espn.com/olympics/gymnastics/story/_/id/31902290/simone-...

– nypost.com/article/history-of-simone-biles-mental-health-issues

5 people are talking about this
Tracy Riggs

Struggling With Addiction and Returning to 'Normal' in the Pandemic

This past year has been one for the history books. A year and a half ago the first reported cases of COVID-19 were reported in China. But at that point, we neither knew about it or really cared, as it was on the other side of the world. In January 2020, the first case outside of China was reported. But it was still on the other side of the world. Just two short months later, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and it changed the way we interact with others, perhaps for the rest of our lives. What does this mean for addicts? I’m not discounting all of the stress and anxiety that non-addicts have faced throughout the pandemic. I’m not saying that all addicts have had it worse than “normies.” But according to the National Institute of Mental Health, one-third of American adults have symptoms have anxiety or depression and 13 percent reported having started or increased substance abuse during this past year. These rates are nearly double of what was experienced before the pandemic. According to research done in 2009, “the greater the number of stressors an individual is exposed to, the higher the risk of developing addiction.” It also showed that there was a link between stress and relapse. Though this research was done with drug use as the addictive agent, we know that all addictions share many common factors, with underlying issues triggering them being one. Stress affects recovery for those with sex addiction the same way it does for other addictions. VeryWellMind reports that “Addiction often appears to be an attempt to deal with stress in a way that doesn’t quite work out for the individual,” and “It is clear that some people are more vulnerable to addictions than others, simply by the amount of stress in their lives.” Though stress doesn’t cause addiction, it’s obvious to those of us that deal with addiction that stress is a factor, both in becoming addicted and in recovery. So as we transition out of the stress of stay-at-home orders, wearing masks everywhere we go and not being able to get close to others, here are some reminders of ways to reduce stress and to help with your recovery: Manage how you consume information. Follow healthy daily routines as much as possible. Take care of yourself through exercise and movement. Practice relaxing in the present moment. Do meaningful things with your free time. Stay connected with others and maintain your social networks. Find mental health resources. Read more about each tip in the COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Tracy Riggs

The Mental Health Implications of Being Judged for Your Weight

I am overweight… very overweight. The medical term is “morbidly obese” (which I hate) and the standard term is fat (which I’m trying to accept as an accurate description while ignoring all the emotional pain that word brings up). From the time I was young, it seems that everything that was wrong with me was because of my weight. I remember going to a doctor one time as a young adult because I had an ear infection and before the doctor even looked at my ears, I got a long lecture about the need to lose weight. For the longest time, more doctor’s appointments than not included a lecture about my weight. It was like they assumed I had never heard that same lecture before, that I didn’t even realize I was overweight or I hadn’t ever tried anything to fix it. Doctors have gotten more understanding over the years, but I still walk out of every appointment with a new doctor amazed when I wasn’t lectured about my weight — it is so ingrained in me to expect that. Just to go on and clear this up, I have tried just about everything… fad diets, low carbs, high protein, Adkins, lots of exercise, fasting, diet pills, fiber pills, etc. I was on diets from the time I was really young until I finally gave up about 10-15 years ago. So, dear doctors of my past, I want you to know that I was trying. It was just that nothing worked. For the record, I am now trying again. However, no more “diets.” I realized I have an eating disorder/food addiction and I’m going that route now to deal with it instead. (Yes… It’s possible to be very overweight and have an eating disorder. Who woulda’ thunk, right?) At my age, I don’t expect to ever be what the charts say is an ideal weight. When I was young and working out all the time, I never got there, so I know it’s unrealistic to even imagine that now. But even if I do end up losing a great deal of weight to become closer to “normal,” I know that the battle inside my head will probably continue on. This battle is what my mind automatically tells me that everyone is thinking about me when I differ from the norm. Let me give you some examples: Sweating: I have several medical conditions and medicines which, combined, tend to make me sweat. A lot. I can be sitting at my desk and the temperature creeps up to 76 (which is really mild for most people) and I break out in a sweat. But if I’m outside and I’m pouring sweat, I automatically assume that everyone is thinking, “If that woman would just control what she puts into her mouth, she wouldn’t sweat like that.” No booths, please: When I go to a restaurant, I always ask for a table. Yes, I could technically fit into most booths out there, but it’s highly embarrassing the times I can’t. Plus, it’s uncomfortable most of the time even if I fit. So I insist on a table. The majority of the time the hosts are very accommodating but I’ve had a few times when I felt that I was inconveniencing them by my preference. Injuries: I recently had an ankle injury, a bad one. Well, I use the term “injury” very lightly, as it was caused by overuse while exercising. (Ironic, huh?) Since then I’ve had to use a walking boot, an AFO (a stiff ankle brace), a walker, a knee scooter, a wheelchair and sometimes a combination of several of those items. If anyone else uses these accommodations, I feel that no one thinks twice about it and assumes it was from an injury. If I’m using them, I feel everyone is thinking, “She did it to herself by eating too much.” Second helpings/desserts: Depending on what type of meal plan I’m on at the time, I might be able to eat dessert or get a second helping of some type of food. I always feel that I’m being judged for my food choices. Keep in mind there are those of us who are doing something to work on this weight issue… but it’s just not healthy to be so strict all the time. My mental issues and stress levels combined with some past and current life issues mean I honestly can’t deal with the stress of “eating healthy” 24/7. In fact, the first doctor who I ever felt cared more about me than my weight told me that severe depression had a higher chance of killing me (through suicide) than my weight did. So if you see someone overweight getting more food or different foods than you think they should, hold back your judgment. You don’t know what’s going on in their lives and losing weight might not be the priority you think it is. Saying no to invitations most would automatically say yes to: I’m sure some think I’m stuck-up or don’t like them because I don’t attend certain activities I’ve been invited to. There are some places that I have a high potential to be embarrassed so I avoid them (and it’s embarrassing to admit why so I just leave it to the imagination of the one who did the inviting). Some examples: An outdoor wedding could mean those little wedding chairs. Those terrify me. How incredibly embarrassing would it be to break one at one of the most important days of a couple’s life? Theme parks could mean sitting and watching while the others go on a fun roller coaster that you just can’t fit into. Fun times at the beach can be embarrassing as you try to walk in soft sand and sink much lower than everyone else. These are just a few examples of things that someone really overweight thinks about that the normies wouldn’t ever even imagine are issues. Travel: Seatbelts in different cars are different lengths and the receptacle sometimes is almost buried either between the seats or in the back of the seat (in the car’s backseat). Airplane seatbelts are never long enough. And back to amusement parks… some rides still use regular seatbelts, which are also usually not long enough. I’ve mostly gotten over the stigma of having to ask for a seatbelt extension or using a seatbelt extender myself, but there are times I would rather not go out with friends or try to ride an amusement park ride just because I don’t feel up to dealing with it. One way I’ve gotten around it is to offer to drive so that the seatbelt isn’t an issue. But for those who work in air travel or those amusement park rides, please be discreet when asking about or giving out seatbelt extensions. You can make an overweight person’s day by taking that extra step and saving them some embarrassment. Conferences, training or learning opportunities: Don’t even think about me being able to fit in a typical student desk. I’ve walked into the breakout rooms at some conferences held at high schools or colleges and there was absolutely nowhere for me to sit. The same holds true with classrooms or meeting rooms that only had one size of chairs, with arms, that are not one-size-fits-all. I’ve learned it’s more important for me to suck it up and go find a chair from another room that will work than miss the information I planned on getting with my attendance. Theaters, auditoriums and concert halls: Similar to my last point, many theater seats are not built for plus-sized people. Older theaters, especially, terrify me because it’s not even that I’m uncomfortable in some of those seats — I literally won’t fit. I’ve learned to ask for handicapped seating. Again, it’s embarrassing because the other audience members can look at me and think, “She’s not disabled.” (Oh, but if only they knew the physical and mental issues I deal with…) But I’ve gotten over that concern so I can enjoy the wonderful musical, movie or concert the same as every other person there. Also, to be honest, the other audience members will enjoy it more if I’m not spilling out of one of those tiny seats. (To this same effect, disabled seating is also great for social anxiety, as I am not sitting in the middle of a group of strangers.) I could include more examples, but these are some that affect my life every day the most. I’m writing this to increase awareness and hopefully to decrease the judgment and stigma that those of us with weight issues deal with frequently. Please keep in mind that a person is not their weight — and just like someone who is very tall, or short,or has other physical features that aren’t “average,” we just want to live life the best we can.

Tracy Riggs

Saying 'I'm Glad You're Here' Can Help Someone Who Is Suicidal

A while back, I made a note about something that was said to me in a support group meeting. This happens often. In many meetings, I will find myself writing down insights others share so that I can ponder them later. This particular phrase isn’t an “insight,” however. It’s said often in these types of support groups and the one who says it probably has no idea that it can have two meanings. It’s spoken as casually as the more common term, “Thanks for sharing,” that several say at the end of every share. Most of the time, this expression is saved for those instances someone shares a particularly heartfelt experience. There are some support group members who gravitate towards using it regularly, so during some meetings, it might be heard more often than usual. But in most of the groups I attend, it’s rarely used. This phrase is: “We’re glad you’re here.” On the surface, it doesn’t look like it has a double meaning. It’s pretty straightforward. When you tell someone you are glad that they are here, then that’s what you mean — you are glad that person is at the meeting. I’ve been involved with support groups now for over two and a half years. For the first 18 months, I didn’t hear it that often. I said it maybe once or twice. But then, in September 2019, it was said to me after I shared and a lightbulb went off. I’m bipolar type 2 and have several other medical and mental health issues. Suicidal thoughts flood my mind often when I’m really depressed. A stretch of several days in September 2019 was one of those times. Though I never got as far as having a plan on how to do it, this time I got very close. I went to a meeting because it’s what recovering addicts do. When I’m depressed, I’m usually quiet and won’t talk to anyone. I didn’t plan on sharing. I was just going to listen to others and was hoping I’d walk out of there encouraged enough to not even want to make a plan. I can’t remember what the topic that night was, or even exactly what I shared. I’m pretty sure I shared some of the struggles I was dealing with and that I was really depressed. I may have even shared that I was suicidal. I finished my share and heard many say the standard, “Thanks for sharing.” But then I heard a sole person say, “We’re glad you’re here.” You know those “lightbulb moments” that you sometimes get? I had one right then. I don’t know if the person who said it meant for it to only have the straightforward meaning. I didn’t notice who said it so I couldn’t ask. But when those words were spoken, to me, at that time, in my current state of mind, it meant more than “someone was glad I was at the meeting.” To me, in that moment, it meant that the person was glad I was still here, on earth… alive. I came across that phrase today when I was looking through some old notes. As I was even more suicidal a couple of weeks ago and did have a plan during that dark time, I’m thankful that I was reminded that there are those who are glad I’m still here. I’m also thankful for others who are also still here, and not just at a meeting. On this same idea of being glad you are here, I want to share a life-saving question that has saved my daughter, some of her friends, my mom and myself. It is, “Will you promise you’ll stay safe?” My daughter and my boyfriend know, when I get really depressed or incredibly anxious, to ask me. I do the same for them. We don’t answer until we are sure we can really promise… and being asked the question helped save me that night a couple of weeks ago. Suicide hotlines are helpful, but knowing that someone you know cares enough to go out on a limb and ask that question can literally be the difference between life and death. If you see someone really down and have even the slightest suspicion that they are thinking about suicide, ask the question. If suicide is being thought about, it’s not offensive if you ask. Those six words could potentially save a life.

Community Voices

Insomnia... Again

It’s 2:26am. I have fallen asleep twice tonight but woke up within 30 minutes each time. I don’t know what I can do to get to sleep.

I…

am…

exhausted…

…but I just can’t sleep.

I know at least some of the factors that are keeping me from sleeping.

I have a pretty severe case of RLS (Restless Legs Syndrome). This is why I’m not in bed at least trying to sleep. The creepy-crawly feeling in my legs and the almost constant kicking drive me crazy. If I’m up doing something, it’s not quite as bad. So I decided it would be a good time to do some cleaning and work at my desk.

I have several auto-immune disorders and a storm front is coming in. The change of barometric pressure seems to always cause a flare-up. For me, a flare-up causes increased pain (more than my normal), increased dryness in my eyes and mouth/throat, and I’ve just started suspecting it’s why the RLS is worse at some times and not at others.

I’m also hypomanic right now. I have several indicators that I’m mania and currently, I’m hitting every one of them. Obviously, mania makes it harder to sleep just by definition.

This blog is being written with my eyes half-closed. You would think that if I’m so tired that I almost can’t keep my eyes open, it’s time to go to bed, right?

Wrong. Though I do plan to try again after I finish this post, I don’t have a lot of hope that I’ll be successful. I’m mostly going back to bed because I’m tired of sitting at my desk, not because I think sleep is forthcoming.

So far this evening I’ve tried many of the traditional approaches that help me sleep when I’m having these issues: taking extra RLS meds, eating a snack, taking a warm bath, listening to ASMR, and reading. None have worked.

This is something I’ve dealt with off and on for as long as I can remember. Most nights aren’t quite this bad, however. Most nights I’ll get at least a few hours of sleep. I’m trying to stay hopeful that it’s now only 2:40am and maybe I can still get a few hours in before I need to get up and start the day.

If not, at least I got a few things done.

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Tracy Riggs

Learning to Focus on Myself Instead of My Diagnoses

“You are more than your addictions, health challenges and mental health issues.” This is something my new therapist emphasized with me at the end of our first session together. At first, I was defensive when thinking about it. Not to excuse what I’ve been doing, but in order of explanation, when, within the span of fewer than five years… You figure out you are an addict … and then recognize you have addictions in two areas, not just the one previously recognized. You are diagnosed with several new physical health conditions, not just those you’ve been dealing with your entire life. You realize you have bipolar type 2  … and then learn you have a few more mental health conditions, not just those you’ve been dealing with your whole life. It’s difficult not to focus on these things. Any one of those three aforementioned areas would be hard for anyone to deal with in that time span. Having to learn and navigate what all this means, as in typical symptoms, life implications and treatments, is overwhelming enough. Then figuring out your symptoms, life implications and treatments is even more overwhelming. Life added additional stress. During that time, I also had been dealing with a major life trauma , navigating how to live as a freelancer, helping my teenager become an adult and both she and my parents with their own physical and mental issues, nurturing a new relationship  and trying to fulfill a childhood dream, it’s honestly no wonder I got caught up in it all. After all, many of the diagnoses explained a lot about how I act and react, why I feel the way I do mentally and physically and they gave me communities of people who I could relate to in ways I couldn’t with “normies.” But, my therapist was right. After pondering over it for several days, I realized I’ve done what I preach against in mental health advocacy: I believe you are not your condition. There has been a move for a while now to change the language of how we talk about people with mental and physical issues to “people-first.” It’s a subtle change, but to me, it really does make a difference. I knew this shift in language and I’ve adopted it. After having to work at it at first, now it’s automatic for me to use this “people-first” way of speaking. But, until my new therapist gave me that bit of insight, I didn’t realize I hadn’t used it for my own life. Like I said earlier, I have had good reasons for being wrapped up in focusing on those issues for the last few years and so my life hasn’t been “myself-first, condition-last.” I have been my diagnoses. It is always a major revelation when I realize how one of my issues explains something I do or feel. For example, the reason I have insomnia at times and have no problems with it other times is due to being hypomanic or not. It was a big deal when I found out the sinus issues I’ve dealt with for years and couldn’t ever effectively treat are a result of having fibromyalgia . It’s important for me to know I’m an addict with an eating disorder and no amount of willpower will make me lose weight  — that I need support in ways even the best weight loss program can’t manage. But, in the process of learning about all of these new diagnoses and how they impact my life, I lost who I am. When I am really confident about my images, I chalk it up to being manic , not that my photography skills actually have improved. When I’m hurting, my first thought is it’s the fibro and not that I worked out hard the day before, which is something I should celebrate. When I want to avoid social situations, I tend to focus on the fact I have social anxiety and not that I have been complimented on my interviewing skills as a journalist, so there must be a social part in me somewhere. Again, it wasn’t a horrible thing to learn about myself through the filter of all of these diagnoses, conditions and disorders. It’s been good to know more about why I am the way I am. However, it’s really time to move on. One of the first decisions I made, to distance myself a little more from these issues, was to stop going to one of the addiction support groups I have attended every Thursday night for almost three years. As a disclaimer, I’m not advocating everyone do that — I’m just discussing my journey. For me, it just made sense. I still am going to two support groups a week, one focused on each addiction. I still have numerous doctor’s appointments scheduled to keep trying to figure out ways to combat my physical problems. I still am working closely with both a psychiatrist and a therapist to help with the mental health side. If I’m going to become more than my issues, then I need to focus on other parts of my life. Though that support group only takes about an hour of time each week, I could take that hour and use it to practice sign language, as becoming fluent is a childhood dream of mine. Though the virtual conferences that are now very abundant due to COVID-19 are helpful, right now it’s more important I use that time to rediscover what I enjoy doing. My therapist asked me what I do for fun. I honestly don’t know. Nothing is fun anymore. Though I realize that’s part of my mental health issues (not enjoying things you used to love), it’s now time to not just automatically blame that on depression , but instead try to find things I enjoy doing. I need to actively put forth the effort to find out more about the playful part of myself. I’m not sure how to do this. Giving up one support group a week and skipping some conferences won’t make a big difference if I don’t use that time to learn who I really am — not just about my issues. My goal is to once more learn to enjoy life … to live again.