“Active Minds”: What Conversation Are We Changing?

I wrote this article as a piece for “Mad in America,” reflecting on some of the most important experiences in my life the past few years.

In the late seventies and early eighties, the formation of what would become “anti-stigma” campaigns began to take shape as organizations came together with the goal of education and advocacy around mental health struggles. During this time, NAMI was founded by two mothers responding to a lack of service for those struggling with intense emotional experiences, which they defined as “mental illness.” It has been almost forty years since these mothers met in Wisconsin and started an organization that would go on to be an effective instrument of big pharmacy, developing alongside other organizations operating on “awareness” and “anti-stigma” campaigns. Around two years ago, one of these modern organizations, a national nonprofit group called Active Minds, came to play a defining role in my life.

This group tackles the various issues surrounding mental health on college campuses. Active Minds was officially founded in 2003, but its roots began in the year 2000 when Brian Malmon, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, completed suicide. His sister, Alison, recognized that extreme emotional experiences were not being discussed on college campuses; she noted that Brian hid his extreme experiences from everyone around him. Determined to start a conversation on mental health, Alison launched the organization.

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Thirteen years later, Active Minds has 440 chapters across college campuses. These chapters operate on the mission of “spreading awareness on mental illness” through education, advocacy, and referral to treatment. They sponsor events such as Send Silence Packing, a suicide awareness event in which backpacks are placed across campuses (an event that very well may be a sensationalizing medium contributing to suicide contagion). They have a Speaker’s Bureau, comprised of fifteen speakers that all have unique experiences in dealing with various struggles. Other events include Eating Disorders Awareness Week, an Emerging Scholars Program, and a National Conference, as well as myriad resources for all chapters.

For two years, I served as president of the Active Minds chapter at Westfield State University, a quaint and homey campus in Western Massachusetts. I had come into contact with the organization when, after years and years of rock-bottom self-esteem, endless self-deprecation and suicidal thoughts on a daily basis, I was introduced to the concept of ‘mental illness.’ According to this model, my consistent sorrow and non-stop uneasiness were due to ‘chemical imbalances’ in my brain. Initially, my diagnoses were extremely validating, as I no longer felt like I was at fault for my extreme emotions.

For the next few years, I cycled through Celexa, Zoloft, Klonopin, and Abilify. The side effects exposed themselves differently, sometimes manifesting as slight nausea that would keep me from eating, and sometimes being unbearable, such as an instance of akathisia so intense that I had to leave class to endure one of my most frightening panic attacks in a bathroom stall. I settled on a 225 milligram extended release Effexor pill for nearly two years, side effects bearable.

I was inspired to finally make my mark in the world. I switched to a Psychology major with the intention of becoming a therapist. I founded Active Minds at Westfield State and ardently advocated on my campus and in the community. I wanted people to know that they were not alone. I felt great pride in building an organization that, in increasing numbers as time passed, addressed struggle in a way that I was never able to outside of a therapist’s office. So many folks seemed to mirror my solace in this medium. These conversations needed to happen.

We had so many open discussions about the struggles that college can entail. Relationships, both platonic and romantic, begin to transform and often grow complicated as we learn more about ourselves. Academics and athletics call for an often unattainable perfection. There are abundant pressures to consume copious amounts of alcohol. Rape culture allows constant sexualization and sexual assault on campuses, with rape as the most under-reported crime in college populations. Food can be an enemy in a world where body image is so stressed and the ideal look is through such a narrow scope. Roommate situations can get horribly messy. The list goes on and on.

As I inched closer to graduation, my Psychology Practicum required an internship. At Westfield State’s health fair, our Active Minds chapter hosted a table close to the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community. Their table grabbed my attention with a striking image of a beat-up boot with flowers in it. I was told that the WMRLC was a community where folks supported one another through mutuality and genuine relationships, with no clinical staff and no assumption of illness. I was welcomed into the community for my internship; it introduced me to so many folks who had been through the mental health system. I had expected a further affirmation of my beliefs, but I was introduced to an entire world of the system that I had not known.

Active Minds states on its website that “treatment is effective and available,” and since I had found parts of the system that had worked for me, I automatically believed this to be true. The first question on the FAQ section of the Active Minds website refers those who need “immediate help” to the National Suicide Hotline and crisis centers. I never experienced such phone calls during my own times of deep distress, but with my internship (and eventual employment) at WMRLC, I was introduced to the consequences of calling these resources.

Forced hospitalization (Section 12 in MA) is often the traumatic result of calling crisis services, which is so frequently the referral given by friends and family in times of distress. This allows folks to be held indefinitely against their will, and the opportunity to exist in a healing environment diminishes after this. One common result is seclusion, in which those in locked units are forced into isolation which has fairly obvious detrimental effects. Restraint also occurs, frequently leading to injury and sometimes death, much of which is unreported. Injury can come in physical, mechanical, or chemical form, the last stemming from medication that does far more harm than good in the long-term. Hospitals are not trauma-sensitive in so many ways, and evidently can be the cause of widespread and lasting emotional pain.

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After learning what accepting the medical model of struggle as illness entailed, I became extremely skeptical. The more I talked to folks who had experienced these very real circumstances, the more I began to reflect on my time with Active Minds. I looked on the website, searching for more details of the exact mission of the organization and the resources that it provided.

There are zero references to the details of the potential results of calling Crisis, or to the abundant horrors of involuntary commitment. There are zero references to medication, suggesting blind trust in a referral process that often causes great pain and harm. The organization claims to run on a mission of spreading awareness, so where are the references to the dangers of antidepressants, benzodiazepines, stabilizers, antipsychotics, and other medications that are a very real part of receiving counseling services, treatment or hospitalization? Do they have no obligation to mention the risks?

How can such a major part of the system be ignored? When I asked Ms. Malmon about this, she avoided the question, stating that “Active Minds does not advertise any specific area of treatment,” even though I only hinted at providing objective resources and alternatives that have been helpful to many folks. So, what gives? Why not speak about some of the most pressing issues within the mental health system that are hurting numerous people on a daily basis?

One possible answer brings us back to where similar organizations and campaigns to decrease the “stigma” of mental illness started. In the 1960s, psychiatry began to lose its merit due to books such as Thomas Szasz’s The Myth of Mental Illness which revealed the bad science behind psychiatric drugs. Szasz observed that while the nebulous science behind the theory of chemical imbalances did not add up, extreme emotional responses to life’s inherent struggles were the root of what is often diagnosed as mental illness. This resulted in the rise of the antipsychiatry movement, unintentionally precipitating swift action from the profitable psychiatric industry in order to save itself.

The American Psychological Association quickly published the DSM-III, adding significant numbers of psychiatric diagnoses that used an arbitrary amount of subjective, often self-reported symptoms to diagnose someone as ill. Loren Mosher’s Soteria project, a house without antipsychotics in which non-clinical staff provided companionship, was defunded as Mosher was ousted from psychiatry. Despite its evident success, it was not within the medical model, and so this alternative method of healing was quelled.

Most relevant to this article, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), caught up within the incestuous relationship between the American Psychological Association and pharmaceutical companies, founded an awareness campaign titled “Depression Recognition, Awareness, and Treatment” (DART). Pharmaceutical companies funded this campaign, providing “educational” resources that the NIMH would run for years. Through this campaign, outside organizations that bought the opaque science behind the medical model were initiated, and organizations that aimed to spread the message began to appear, the first of which was the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) in 1979. The APA teamed up with NAMI, and as a result, NIMH funding rose 84% during the 1980s (these developments are outlined in Robert Whitaker’s book Anatomy of an Epidemic).

Since then, NAMI has received an absolutely astronomical amount of money from the pharmaceutical industry. With pharmacy’s bad science pushed forward by organizations that presumably believed they were engaging in beneficial campaigns, much as I did while president of the Active Minds chapter at my college, the medical model grew more popular than ever.

Since the 1980s, the amount of mental health diagnoses (and ensuing disability numbers) in this country has exponentially skyrocketed. Some argue that this is due to the decrease in stigma over the years; maybe since we are evolving into a more accepting society, the number of those diagnosed are more comfortable talking about their struggles, and the data reflects this? Perhaps, though, the artificial agenda of big pharma precisely planned that this would be the case by funding organizations like NAMI and similar groups.

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Why not reduce the stigma surrounding struggle by moving towards a society that is more accepting of traumatic experiences and extreme emotions, rather than asking people to “own an illness” that does not have scientific validity behind it? The only difference this holds, aside from arbitrary diagnosis, is that pharmaceutical companies are raking in exorbitant profits.

Active Minds is not NAMI. However, the two groups have worked together, as well as with the Jed Foundation, whose founder and CEO is heavily tied to big pharma. Kelly Cox, the Vice Chairwoman of the Active Minds Board of Directors, works for Johnson and Johnson, which absorbed Janssen Pharmaceuticals, known for falsifying their marketing of psych drugs. The Active Minds National Advisory Committee is chalk full of big names from psychiatry, including chairman Steven Lerman, who has donated to the Treatment Advocacy Center, an organization that tirelessly advocates for forced treatment using tactics such as highlighting false statistical relationships between mental health diagnoses and violence. Active Minds has apparently taken money or sponsorships from Eli Lilly and Astrazeneca, pharmaceutical firms that have hidden adverse drug effects through bad data time and time again.

While Active Minds does not haul in money from drug companies the way similar “mental illness advocacy” organizations do, the aforementioned ties to pharmaceutical companies, including an entire framework around medical model language, certainly leave much room for a pecuniary relationship to exponentially grow between the two. Financial ties are already there, so who is to say that Active Minds won’t propel itself into the next NAMI? If there is little attention given to what happens after referral to treatment now, what would it look like then? Would it look more like the Treatment Advocacy Center’s website?

There are so many folks, both within Active Minds leadership and throughout chapters, who want to talk about the broader emotional context and experiences that contribute to so much suffering and struggle in this world. In our weekly meetings at Westfield State, we did discuss diagnoses and ran events that were sponsored by organizations that were heavily tied to big pharma, but our favorite parts really seemed to come from when we simply talked about what was going on in our lives. We did not need to talk about “illness” to do this.

Discussing our times of extreme emotion and what mattered to us the most was not pathologizing; it was humanizing. At the end of each of our meetings, we would talk about the best points of our day. After everyone had left and I packed up my bag, I felt relieved that I had the support and love of those around me. Even Ms. Malmon stated in our conversation that Active Minds members do often become friends through working together, and that it was perfectly okay that chapters took this intimate mold as relationships grew stronger.

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Why do conversations about the difficulties behind the experience of living as a human being always have to turn to the medical model to find validity? Why not take pride in our humanity, extreme sadness and despair included? The medical model is so ingrained in our world that it is often difficult to fully take in this point of view, but at the very least, shouldn’t alternative resources be available? Shouldn’t Active Minds talk about the Hearing Voices Network, Alternatives to Suicide groups, the Icarus Project, and other alternative resources as well as traditional ones? Shouldn’t we know what we are getting into when we are calling Crisis? Shouldn’t we know what our medications might do to us?

Ms. Malmon and the rest of the Active Minds crew may want to look at these resources with rose-tinted lenses, but people who have traveled the rocky paths of Crisis and hospitalization have had their lives turned upside down repeatedly. As we accept the medical model more and more, this will presumably only worsen.

When I was struggling, I was ready to believe anything, and I think this principle applies much more widely than myself — especially for those who have not spent time inside the walls of psychiatric hospitals. Active Minds allows college students to start conversations on some of the most difficult struggles we face in life, but it’s important to realize that the medical model is limited in scope and harms many who seek treatment for these struggles.

I urge the organization to lead the conversation away from bad science and towards the common struggles that we endure as human beings — or, at the very least, to include alternate resources and far more transparent information around psychiatric medications. If they don’t, other groups such as NAMI, ADAA, AFSP and the Jed Foundation, even with handfuls of caring, well-intentioned staff, will not. Psychiatry certainly will not. We have a better chance of growing wings than of pharmaceutical companies stepping up to reveal the long-term harm that their products cause.

So, Active Minds, please: take the next step and change the conversation. The new generations of psychiatrists, therapists, social workers, mental patients, and human beings so desperately need the truth that money has effectively quelled for so, so long.

Always remember that you are not alone,

and that you are loved.

DK

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“My Electro-Convulsive Treatment Experience” – Coping, This Is Who We Are, Entry 23

Below, we have a submission from Fishspit, on their experiences with electroshock treatment and other thoughts on life.

The people that were in the cubicles all around me; how can I put it gently? Ah hell, let’s just say it: they were fucked up man. Over the rainbow. Toodly-whooped. Deranged. Damaged. Or just plain worn out.  The last house on the block.  I watched; I listened and I thought, “Holy cats!  Am I that fucked up?  Do I look like them?”  Befuddled. Mixed up. Nobody home- can’t make friends with the brain.

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Shock!  Shock!  Let’s shock ‘em back into shape!  Get rolling!  Keep them doggies moving!  Rolling!  Rolling!  Rolling!  The shock mill!  They were sizing up our situation-asking the necessary questions.  They were nice nurses; they had a lot of compassion.  One of them put her hand on my shoulder as they put the electrodes on that first time. It’s a strange thing, all so strange.  Pardon me, dear reader, if I bounce around like a ping pong ball. It’s a part of the program right now. A side effect.  Being flumdiddled!  “It’ll go away,” they say.  I don’t care if it doesn’t; I’ll be a total simpleton!  I’ll be the slobbering screwball of the century. Just get that fucking beast depression out of my soul!  Shock the shit out of it!  Zip!  Zip Zoom! Zap!  Give it to me!  Double doses!  No, hell!  Quadruple doses: make me a dingus!  Destroy my reason! I want to play again!  Shock!  Zip!  Whammo!

When you come out of it, Oh god!  The first time was a terrifying vision!  I can’t remember the details. I don’t want to. I just remember the fear. I weighed it all in the balance; do I want to experience that again?  I decided it was worth it, but what a bitch!  Misery upon misery!  Would I do it again?  I decided, “Yes!”  But why so much misery?

The second time?  It was worse. I couldn’t breathe. I was conscious. I couldn’t move!  I couldn’t speak!  It’s hard to remember details. I was shocked you know.  Most people have no memory of the whole process; this would become true of me. But this time, Jesus. I could hear them talk. Their laughter. But I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. It’s hard to remember it all!  I’m digging deeply here for you, dear reader. I’m visiting memories I’d rather forget . . . for you!  The anesthesia, the shock. Most people have no memory of the whole process.

I did.

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A dead donkey has more sense than a person coming out of the induced seizure.  That’s what they do, induce a seizure.  Crazy!

I don’t ask questions.  No, I’m beyond all that.  I don’t give a good goddamned anymore.  Just shut up!  Shock me!  Let me become a human again. I haven’t been a human for so long. A jabbering idiot?  Yes!  Yes indeed.  I’ve stumbled through somehow, ended on that table.  Table?  It’s not really, dear reader. Wicked scientists? No!  They show the utmost compassion.  It’s soft, my little table. Plenty of cushion. The machinery-high tech!  Beeps, boops, tweets, twinks; all sorts of beeps going on. No use trying to separate them out.

My anesthesiologist (hey she’s kind of cute!) gives me her routine. Yeah, yeah, I don’t care; put me to sleep baby.  If I don’t wake up, well, was a rough life.  Put me to sleep!  Shock me!  Whammo!  Zip! Zip!  I want to be normal. I want that.

After the second treatment, I had gone home and was sitting on the couch watching my dear, old cat try to play, but this little angel has got some arthritis. 19 years old!  She’s still a kitten at heart!  Yes, but those back legs, especially them.  It only lasted for, well, I’d say a half an hour.  I sat on the couch, like I told you, looking at my cat. I realized there was no depression!  Absolutely none.  I have depression on me at all times, unless I drink liquor or take drugs. But with this path, I ended up homeless, sitting on a bench with my cat, swilling Potter’s 100 proof. Catholic Family Services came down to my bench once a day and brought me a sandwich and my cat a can of food.   Those days were done, though. No more liquor, no more drugs. I was left with a constant depression. I can feel it some as I write. Sometimes it’s a mosquito, a small pestering depression, a tiny dark spot on the soul. But then!  Oh my!  It can become a gorilla!  Consuming me absolutely!  Then I become bed bound, and sometimes, even have to be fed by another by hand, one spoonful of soup at a time.  I become so consumed by darkness I cannot lift my head.  I piss in the bed!  No getting up!  They roll me over and change the sheets.  It’s a hideous thing!  Oh god!  It’s black!  But I’m losing you again.

I’ll take you back. I’m on the couch, watching my precious, and I realize the depression is gone!  Absolutely, totally gone!  I thought Holy dipshits!  This is how other people feel!  This is how normal people feel!  It was then I understood how people navigated life so easily. I felt like others must feel what it felt like to be a normal person.  I could do this life thing!  It was a breeze!  Feeling like that . . . the weight off the brain and the soul. The horrors lifted; I was like, I can do this shit.  This shit’s easy!  Man!  It blew me away!   No wonder people mortgaged their soul, buying these suburban homes.  No wonder they popped out babies to an overpopulated world.  That shit, I realized, is easy!  For normal people.  Oh man, I could kick ass in this world. I was on top of it!  Ha ha, I’d be running this place.  God, life was easy without the black dog.

It went away though. I lost it. The depression returned. The grey and the brown sunk in. I sat, bewildered.

 

Postscript 

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I don’t like to tell people I get E.C.T.  It’s too much of a hassle.  For instance, I’ve started going out into society again after a long hiatus.  My pal Bob took me to a musical jamboree.  I was smoking out back and this fellow took an interest in me for some reason.  We talked for quite some time.  I finally admitted that I get electro-convulsive treatment.  He didn’t know what I was talking about, so I said: “You know, shock treatments.”  People know that term!  He said, “Shock treatments have been outlawed since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

God, if I had a nickel for every time that movie was brought up when I mention “shock treatments!”

I told him, “No, I get them.”  He demanded his assertion was correct.  He was calling me a liar, I guess.  I told him he could contact Swedish Hospital, the ECT department, if he didn’t believe me.”  He got up and left me in disgust.

Electro-convulsive treatment was good to me in that it got me out of a suicidal depression.   I still struggle, but at least I’m able to get up and get out of bed.  I was in bed for a very long time.  Still, its wreaked havoc with my brain.  They told me that it would affect my memory.  At first this didn’t seem to be happening.  I didn’t know what the big deal was.  But then, wow, things just seemed to slip away.  I forgot the names of people I knew very well!  It became difficult to tell a story.  It wasn’t only that I forgot the words needed, no!  It was also that I forgot the concepts that made up the basics of the story.  I don’t know how to describe this!  Unless it has happened to you, I don’t think you could know just what I mean.  Then there are the strange mental blank spots.  You are not supposed to drive when getting ECT.  I understand why!  I have been driven through places I have known for years, but I will look around me and not know where I am at.

I have been told that these side effects will diminish.  I currently get ECT once a month.  Depression has become a problem again.  It became very scarce with three treatments a week.  It seems to be rearing its insidious head again.   Vincent Van Gogh said something to his brother Theo as he was dying, after shooting himself. I once knew the quote quite well, but now I not only have forgotten it. I have forgotten which notebook I wrote it in. That’s one thing to mention: I take copious notes because my memory is so poor, so many that I’m becoming overwhelmed by the amount of notes.

Vincent said something to the effect that suffering never ends.  I know exactly what he was saying.

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Remember, you’re never alone,

and you’re always loved.

-DK

Want to submit to Dear Hope and share your story, art, or article related to mental health? Email us at wemustbebroken@gmail.com.

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Coping: This Is Who We Are dear hope

Interview with the Artist: A Day Without Love’s “Solace”

Without the ability to find comfort in battle, you will never be able to win the war. I wrote this record so I could win the war.”

—-

Back in January, we talked to Brian Walker about his life’s journey, inevitably intertwining his times of both triumph and struggle. His willingness to be vulnerable, as is with anyone who submits a Coping piece, was extremely courageous and admirable.

One of the focal points of Brian’s life was, and is, music. The inspiration he’s gained from music over the years inspired him to become a musician himself. In his Coping piece, he mentioned how his band, A Day Without Love, came to be.

Now, nearly nine months later, ADWL has freshly released Solace, a new album that speaks to many of the themes and experiences that Brian has thoroughly described to us. I had the pleasure of asking him some questions about the album, the processes of writing and recording, and the future of the band.

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1) What inspirations went into writing Solace? Are there recurring themes throughout the album that stick out to you?  

I was inspired to write Solace during a very dark time in my life as well as a very transitional time in my life. I had decided to write this full length after leaving SXSW and beginning to stop drinking. This record is kind of my way of trying to let out all of the vices in my mind. Sonically, I would say Kevin Devine has been a very large influence, as well as Alex G and Modest Mouse. Thematically, there are recurring themes around racism, depression, and alcoholism.

2) Bring us through the recording process. I noted that you took the photo for the album cover as well as writing the lyrics and music. How was the process for you? Was it different from previous recordings?

 Yes. My friend Brianna and I got out to a park with my friend Karaamat (the album art designer) and we took some photos in West Philadelphia. It was a pretty cool day. As far as writing the record, I wrote 60 songs in about a year, chose 15 to pursue, and then narrowed it down to the 13 songs that are on the album. The songs were written acoustically and then built up with me and my former band mate from there.

3) Are there any songs that you particularly like or are proud of? Any songs that were harder than others to put together?

For the exception of Persistence and Solace most of these songs stayed the same way that they were written. Cruel changed a few times before we set it down to recording, but most of the writing of these songs moved very smoothly and I think my favorite song on the album cannot be narrowed down to just one. All of the songs are so different, much like a reflection of so many things that have changed in my life. In terms of difficult songs, I think tracking Too Fast was pretty tough, especially the last riff. I guess you can say that was the most metal riff that I have done in my discography so far.

4) Do you have any plans to play the songs from Solace live? If so, where and when should we keep a look out?

Yes. I will be playing across the Northeast, South, and Midwest on 3 to 4 day tour stints while managing a job. You can view most of my show dates on the band website and subscribe to the Bandsintown link to see me play at a show near you. Also, I will be playing solo sets mostly, and doing a full band show at Ortliebs, a venue in Philadelphia.

5) I hear the emotion behind this music. You noted that much of the struggles you’ve faced (racism, mental health, death, etc.) went into the content of Solace.  How was turning your pain into an creative, artistic medium?

 I find the writing this record to be very reflective and, if anything, the most reflective piece of artwork I have ever done in my life. I have samples of my grandfather in here who died of lung cancer during the writing process. I kind of see the record as a way of reminding myself of who I was, who I am trying to be, and what I am today. I know there are many problems I highlight in the record, but the point of the record was not to discuss problems, but what I do with those problems, and how do I find ways to overcome the things I can not control.

6) You also highlighted that this was your first album sober; first of all, congratulations on that. I remember from your coping piece that this was a struggle for you, and I commend you on that. What emotions, difficulties, and triumphs came from creating Solace from a place of sobriety?

Initially, I felt like I lost my best friend by not writing under the influence of alcohol and drugs. But after giving that up I felt like I was discovering myself again, which is why I think this record sounds so different than my previous records. Creating music from a place of sobriety is not only freeing; it’s comfortable because you know that you are writing from a place of honesty, a place that is clear, a place that is not covered up by the drugs and alcohol I used to drown my body with. So writing songs sober is really tight.

7) What’s the next step for A Day Without Love? How are you feeling moving forward?

Currently I plan on touring as much as I financially can. I am on a major weight loss and self-discovery journey. I want to write a record on body positivity, and I am probably going to make this sonically more different than other records. In addition, I may release a lo-fi record soon.

8) If you had to pick a single message from Solace that encapsulated the album, what would it be? What does the album say more than anything to you?

No matter how much people hate you or you hate yourself, do your damn best to find peace and comfort in the war you are fighting. Without the ability to find comfort in battle, you will never be able to win the war. I wrote this record so I could win the war. In some ways, I believe I am not alone, so I want others to feel that they know they are not alone, and they can fight their battles together. Hopefully one day we can fight our battles together.

—-

You can become more familiar with A Day Without Love here, as well as giving Solace a listen, here. If you’re not familiar with Brian’s journey, check out his Coping piece from this past winter.

Remember-you are not alone,

and you are loved.

-DK

Want to submit to Dear Hope and share your story, art, or article related to mental health? Email wemustbebroken@gmail.com

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Poetry: quiescent ontogeny (shedding September skin)

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go back some steps and paint the rest the colors they were meant to be.

parasites preventing psychology-
absent sounds without answers, potential apart metamorphosis.
the mistakes were easy,
splitting monochrome apart of the omniscient wind.

and they never learned anything.

I couldn’t escape the quiescence of ontogeny
descending east or west in our
oblivion as nothing-
these spider webs bury dead
under my intuition
ashamed of my own decisions
refusing to light,
but the flicker always subtle in the night,
aggressive how I wanted to make it shine.

we’re butterflies with broken mirrors,
scintillatingly self-reflecting that our deepest fears will never resonate with
the man under the bridge or the
child in Idaho or the
part of my father i never want to see in myself,
but always will.
hand-crafted maps fade because we’re told to abandon
caterpillars
as if this growth was a virus and not a blessing disguised as
thousands of glass shards unlocking doors.
I wanted to know more.

I couldn’t think where my mind begins
it shifts back hollow where I started
blonde curls lost frivolously among the pile of careful maple leaves
you should’ve tried to understand while you
blurred the sharpness of this image,
shades of fuschia indecisions
evading a dream,
incomplete sets of glass menagerie fog when I fall asleep.
shuffling the shutter, parallel to the stress it put me under.
a life repeating its first day,
continuing cabarets
confusing caves in sheep
crystallize
an endless disease.

flowers don’t communicate in binary;
your daisies were fireworks,
mute mutilations of my morbidity,
simultaneously transforming
sheep from tangible reality.
as I felt every strand of indifference-

IT ALL COULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT.

but
our faces yield yellow hues in
both pines needles and piles of
orange maples.

ashamed of where I hadn’t  been
because of the person I have yet to become
knowing what I will never be.
It was strange to see me as a human being
amorphous
feathers drifting incomplete
as crows without grief
circling aware
predicting what I could not escape
luminescent highways miles from fate
time spent
in the essence of these transgressions
pardon me gray.

what can i call colors i see,
branches of the trees from Polaroid memories,
or dreams of what the world should be?
where can i find these answers on this endless canvas,
this bruised, mountainous landscape,
constantly hammering away against our wars with self-abandonment?
what’s the spectrum where
trees and
everyone you’ve ever known that’s felt loss
can sing in harmony?

trapped in my mind,
hope is destiny when it’s not in our plans

running out of time,
the colors will fade as limbs grow thicker

footsteps erase.

mirrors adapt.

This piece is a collaboration between Zachary Johnson and Danny Kochanowski.

Always remember you are not alone.

You are loved.

-DK

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Creative Pieces dear hope

Graduation

Dear Hope started as an assignment, and is now so much more: a community of coping, recovery, addiction, healing, pain, love, loss, transparency, authenticity, doubt, and resilience. Today, I graduate alongside Paul, Amanda, Zach, and so many more souls that have made this community possible. This morning, I reflected on the last four years. The most important lesson I have learned is that there will be people you love that will either water your self-growth to flourish, or stomp on it out of personal pain and insecurity. We all deserve the former, and for when the latter is an unfortunate reality, we are all here for you. This is not a journey to ever be taken alone. Thank you all for growing with us.

i remember how those jeans looked when you put them on one pant leg at a time, and then when both flickered glimmers of future false hope and came together, met with a zipper. you always told me that the mirror was a lot less friendly than reality, but now I’m not so sure that the reflection was an inaccurate piece of diction regarding the color you drain from the world, first in wavelengths smaller than your pinky toe, and then all at once, like a vacuum.

the skies have smiled and cried and wiped up old tears and crusted snot since you left. it seems like i’ve brought every single goddamn cloud to this piece of paper, rain or shine. it’s trite, it’s boring, but it’s the only sick and sad way of coping with losing every drop of precipitation that changed the dry cracks in the ground into sunflowers. i never cared if they were yellow or pink or black and white. they were real.

it’s time to accept that cracked concrete is still concrete and can still grow flowers, even if they are black dahlias or dandelions that the people in my life that have told me that i’ll never be good enough deem to just be common weeds. you can’t drain my life anymore by draining the color from it. your presence is everywhere, but your presence is gone. absence can define, but such a shattered self-perception can’t be cleaned up with only a single pairs of bruised and bleeding hands. i’ve had enough of enclosing the zipper from the hazel-stained, green dream scene on my lips to mute myself.

we survive by love, and today, there is so much love for every memory i’ve ever made. your departure is not my self worth. my departure with those who cared enough to stitch up my infected knees is my self worth. sitting in your Grand Prix before Elm talking about potential and wiping the blood off of blades. listening to Parachutes and smoking enough to forget everyone who ever hurt us. sunshine and werewolves. elevators and Aderall. Canada and Virginia. stone walls, long-distance calls, salvia that looked like fudge, dehydration in Williamsburg, the screen porch at Meadow, and choosing not to print out my suicide notes.

today we evolve because you do not define my evolution anymore. today we evolve because i have a voice that deserves to be heard. we all have stories that deserve to be heard. today we evolve because love will always be the stitches that any of our knees will require, infection or not. we will blossom, in darkness and in light, in color and in absence, in faith and in fear.

no matter how deep the planet decides to cave in, our hands will always be there to help pull you out.

and i’ll never need you for me to be absolutely certain of that
ever again
.

Remember, you are never alone,

and you will always be loved.

DK

Creative Pieces dear hope

Let’s Talk About Death: An Alternative Approach to Mental Health

This community is growing rapidly, and I think the most beautiful aspect of having an eclectic group of folks together in one place is that we all have different stories to tell. Parts of all of our journeys inevitably intertwine in the continuums of triumph and struggle, but we all have our own lens to share. The idiosyncratic blend of colors we each bring to the world is something that ought to be more celebrated in spaces outside of Dear Hope, but until the world takes a turn in a more loving direction, we will always have this space to share those bonds.

Article dear hope

“A Journal On The Imperfections of Perfection” – Coping: This is Who We Are Entry 18

For today’s piece, we have a  submission from Kelly Sorge about her struggles with an eating disorder. This one really hit us hard, and we think you’ll enjoy it thoroughly. 

Fall 2011

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It didn’t start the way you normally hear about these things starting. I was never bullied about my weight. No one ever called me “fat”, and I actually always considered myself skinny growing up. It happened completely out of the blue one day when this demon awoke inside me and decided to make me think that I wasn’t good enough. Little did I know that this demon would follow me and take over the next three years of my life.

Coping: This Is Who We Are dear hope