“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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Mental Health & Social Media: Home Alone Downloading While Everyone Else is Uploading

I was lying in bed on a Thursday night recently in my apartment while my five roommates were out at the bar. I had been invited, encouraged even, to go out with them, but I was in a low, and wasn’t in the frame of mind to socialize and make small talk. As the hours went by I found myself scrolling through the same three social media apps, and I could feel the little energy I had being consumed from me even more. I was filling my negative space with the seemingly positive lives of others, comparing myself to those who were having a much better time than I was.

I often like to think of myself as having an acute sense of self awareness. Through running a website about mental health, I am constantly learning about new things to be aware of with my depression and incorporating them to better myself and improve my lifestyle.

But the truth is I still fall for some tricks that my depression plays on me. Tricks that make me question concrete parts of my life, engage in negative coping mechanisms, and make a few poor decisions every once in awhile.

Recently I realized that the way I use social media is one of those poor decisions I make regarding my mental health.

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Now I’m not saying that social media caused my depression that night my friends all went out to the bar. According to a study conducted on Facebook use and depression, there is no direct relation between social media use and depression. But what I can say, without a doubt, is that the way I was using it while depressed made my symptoms worse.

The study supports this, as the way social media is used can affect how we feel. The main argument in the study is that when Facebook is used as a tool for personal surveillance, envious tendencies can occur, ultimately leading to depressive symptoms.

Envy?

I didn’t feel envious, did I? I was just seeing what other people were doing. I was just scrolling through observing funny tweets and pictures from the bar and reading a conversation between the two love birds while I did…

absolutely nothing.

Wait.

Surveillance is defined as time spent on social media seeing what other people are doing and comparing it back to what you are not doing. While I may have not been consciously comparing myself with friends, I think part of me knows that I was wishing I was capable of having as much fun as they were.

I continued to feel worse, questioning why I wasn’t able to keep it together enough to go out with my friends. Because of these new doubts, I started to think that their lives were always like this – exciting and fun-filled, while inversely thinking mine was dull and bland.

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A recent Huffington Post article tells the story of a woman named Sydney who experienced hardships during her freshman year adjusting to college life with her anxiety disorder. She described how she began to struggle to distinguish between “fact and fiction” and constantly compared herself to others when using different forms of social media, including Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

“Instagram and Snapchat make me hyper aware of the activities I wasn’t invited to partake in, and less involved in the activities that are actually in front of me,” Sydney writes. “Comparing myself to others is blatantly unhealthy….it makes me question my place in life.”

When social media platforms are used as surveillance and lead us to compare ourselves with others, we start accepting the lives people are uploading as truth. Individuals who consistently use Facebook are more likely to agree that others have better lives. This mindset can be dangerous for our mental health.

When we publish updates and statuses about ourselves, we tend to post only the positive things that happen in our lives, very rarely do we post the negatives that occur. So when someone is fighting something like depression or anxiety, comparing the times they’re struggling to lives seen on online profiles that appear “perfect” can make someone more afraid to speak up.

Because if everyone else is doing okay, we should be good enough to handle this ourselves, right?

But why do we only post the positive things from their lives? This could be based on the way we are “rewarded” for posting. On Instagram, Twitter, and until recently Facebook, posts are awarded with “likes”. Typically, positive and humorous posts get more “likes” than those that are sad or negative.

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We’ve been conditioned to post the positive parts of our lives. We almost do it subconsciously. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that people’s lives are more complicated than their Facebook feeds suggest, especially for people like me who deal with the feelings of inadequacy that come with depression. All it takes is a depressive episode to leave me helplessly scrolling through feeds and concluding that my life is terrible and I’m not doing enough.

Not only is posting positively encouraged, but we need to post enough so that we feel satisfied that people know we are doing something. Apps like Snapchat plant the idea in our head that we need to share our life and every incredible moment in it to have a form of validation. We take videos of the concert we’re attending, post pictures of the food we eat, and make sure we snapchat every funny thing that happens when we’re out with friends. We need to let other people know we do things. We need the validation.

We need to let other people know we’re alive.

But if you have depression, feeling alive can often be a very difficult thing to do. Depression makes us feel like we already aren’t doing enough. It whispers in our ear that we are a failure, that our loved ones don’t love us, and that our existence is meaningless.

But we do matter.

And we don’t need to prove every day that we are happy (whether we are or not) through social media.

Our mental health is important. And the truth is everyone really isn’t as okay as their Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter suggest. While this may seem obvious, it is important to note that our guard can be substantially lowered when dealing with the effects of a mental health condition. Especially those of us who are already fighting a constant battle like I am with depression. Because that’s what happened to me.

I spent so many nights, already in a depressive state, scrolling aimlessly through social media apps and wondering why I couldn’t hold myself together like everyone else. I still do it sometimes. But now I’m constantly trying to remind myself that this is not the whole picture. Social media is often a positive tool to unite us all, but don’t let its representations of only the best parts of our lives convince you that you don’t fit in the reality it has created on the days you feel at your worst.

Always remember you are not alone.

You are loved.

PF


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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.

—-

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

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A Message to Myself: It’s Not Your Fault

Hi friends,

I wanted to share some food for thought for anyone else who gets stuck on the track of thinking: Something about me is fundamentally wrong, I don’t deserve the things I want, and my hopes and expectations are too high.
This way of thinking can come about for any number of reasons. Sometimes, when our expectations don’t match up with reality, it feels like this is somehow due to a moral failure or a sense of unworthiness.
Often, things simply don’t work out. Not because we did something wrong. They just didn’t work. It’s pretty simple, right?
But for some reason, instead of internalizing things this way, our inner dialogue goes more like this:
This didn’t work out, and it’s my fault, and this will continue to happen because of who I am. Maybe I deserve less than I thought.
Have you been there before? Have you felt your energy shift as your mind goes from thinking about small disappointments to making a giant, irrational leap in thinking that somehow, you are being rejected for who and how you are, and that’s why things aren’t working? 27955620062_70b62fc866_k.jpg
I don’t always feel this way, as I’ve worked for years to change my inner dialogue and it has dramatically improved. But when I do feel this way, I want to shrink and hide. To stop asking for more. To be as small as possible to avoid future disappointments.
But I think that as tempting as it is to do that, we really need to do the opposite. When circumstances in your life lead you to believe that you are not good enough, or wrong, or undeserving, the best (and maybe only) way to push past those self-imposed limitations is not to curb your ambition and enthusiasm and your hope for better things. As counterintuitive as it feels, in those moments we need to expect more, know that we deserve more, and hope for bigger and better things. Especially when we feel that the opposite is true.
Not everything negative that happens is a rejection of who or how you are. In fact, most things are not. Sometimes they are just reminders that you are settling for less than what you deserve: which is to feel loved, fulfilled, and inspired.
Lots of things about you are fundamentally good. You deserve the things you want. Your hopes and expectations are not too high, so long as you are willing to put in the work to get them (and I know you are).
I’ll be repeating that message to myself for as long as it takes to really believe it, and I hope you will, too.
With love,
Samantha B.

Thanks to Sam for contributing her words to our site.
Always remember you are not alone.
You are loved.
PF

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Just Sit Back And Relapse Again

By: KaLeena Genette

Any form of depression is tricky to handle. My form happens to be Bipolar II Disorder, and I’ve been battling that demon for nearly 11 years. Last year I finally broke–really, seriously broke–to the point of being nearly catatonic for about two months. After ten years of “I’ll go see a shrink eventually,” I ended up with no choice if I wanted to keep my job and my sanity.

I’m one of the people who are lucky. I landed in the office of a psychiatrist who made the right call on medication. I wound up on the couch of a patient therapist who watched me lose my mind for weeks until the medication started kicking in and the anxiety and depression started to recede.

Now I’m here, and “here” is still a difficult place to be. Over the course of ten years, I developed unhealthy habits and unhealthy ways of thinking. Even though I have the medication and I’m at the right dose, I have ten years of bad habits to put to rest. This version of life isn’t the miracle I was looking for.

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Why is Happiness so Hard?

Why is Happiness so Hard?

The last couple of months have been difficult. They have been hard for reasons I cannot fathom into words because I do not know the correct vocabulary to describe the empty pit in my stomach, the yearning in my chest for something more.

More. I always need more.

I have everything in this world but my brain, my chest, my heart, my throat, my limbs, my being is always grasping for more.

Maybe more isn’t want I need. It’s not what I’m searching for. No, what I’m ultimately wanting is to feel at ease. To feel okay. To feel worthy. To feel utter happiness.

There are dark clouds inside my mind that like to take a backseat most of the time but never fully leave my head. They precipitate ideas that I am not good enough, I do not deserve what I have: the people in my life, the progress I have made.

Let me briefly explain to you what I have in this life, and why I am so mad at myself.

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I have a mother who would give everything in her being to wipe the clouds from my brain, to give me even just a moment of sincere happiness.

I have a father who would cut down every single tree that is blocking the sun from reaching my dark thoughts.

I have a brother who will stand by me through every panic attack, mental breakdown, and through all of my second, third, and fourth thoughts about making decisions, and then tell me “You did so great, Rebecca”.

I have best friends who are genuinely interested in my life, how I’m doing, what my goals are, and where I’m feeling on this spectrum of intense anxiety and depression.

I have an amazing boyfriend who has dealt with every instance of my thoughts betraying myself, who has stood by me as I question his feelings for me because I am too insecure to believe that he could actually care for me.

I have four walls surrounding me and a roof over my head. I have cats who check up on me when they hear my silently crying at night. I have a job that is keeping my head financially above water. I am getting an advanced education. I am healthy. I am surrounded by beauty. I have every reason to feel intense happiness, to be content.

But those dark clouds keep rolling in.

Those clouds tell me that mom and dad are sick of my mental disparities. My brother will only tell me I am doing great for so long, and does he really mean it? They tell me that my friends do not really care about me and my wellbeing. They tell me that my boyfriend is getting sick of me, is obviously going to leave me, and that it’s best to cut ties before you get hurt. Hurt yourself before anyone else can, right?

My thoughts are irrational and I am aware of this fact. I know that what they are telling me is not real, that they are wrong. But then why do I feel the sadness that they bring? If I can understand that the rain that falls from those clouds is just my depression creeping in, why do I let the feelings of dread, worthlessness, and sadness wash over me? How frustrating it is to be clued into what parts of your mind are lying to you, and yet still believe the emotions that they emit.

And this is why I’m mad. Mad at myself. Because I am allowing these beliefs, these thoughts, these lies overtake me. And I don’t know how to stop. And others are feeling at fault for my mood changes, and I’m angry that I’m allowing my own problems to create tears in relationships that I am so thankful for. I can’t stop this cycle and it hurts.

I once went to a psychic and she told me something I’ll never forget. She told me,

“Rebecca, why won’t you let yourself be happy? Someone could ask you to paint a room, all four walls. You’d finish and they would be so happy with how it came out, they would praise you for your hard work, and you would reply, “Yeah, it’s okay, but I didn’t paint the ceiling.”

My friends, my family, my boyfriend, they all ask me why I am so sad, if they are any cause of this despair that I drag along each day. My beautiful support system feels at fault and that hurts me.

I don’t know how to fix myself. But I’m working on it. But for now, I want to say something to those in my life:

Dear You,

I am sorry. I am so sorry that whatever is happening inside of my head is affecting our connection. I need you to know that you are not doing anything to make me feel like this. You are what is keeping me afloat.

To my family, I am sorry that I am so absent. I am trying my best to not allow my self-deprecation show, because I am embarrassed that I have come so far and have taken steps backwards. Thank you for always being there for me when I need it, and thank you for giving me my space when I’m not feeling like myself.

To my friends, I am sorry for my distance. I am sorry that I have not talked more to you about this. I am trying my hardest to figure it out. Thank you for your unwavering support for me and for always picking up your phone when I call.

To my boyfriend, I am sorry that this side of me has shown itself so early in our relationship. It is not something I was expecting to happen. Thank you for your acceptance of me in dark moments and for telling me that things like this aren’t going to make you run away.

Why is happiness so hard for me? Because I’ve got my arms spread out, with ropes tied around them; anxiety yanking one way, depression yanking me the other, both as hard as they can. My fists are clenched and I’m trying to break free, but sometimes they are stronger than me. Because I am not fully “better”, and I’m not sure I ever will be. Because trusting people is hard for me. Because I do not fully like who I am as a person.

But even when these dark clouds become so large that they haze over my eyes, I always manage to see some glimpse of light, a shimmer of gold reaching through. And that is enough to snap me out, to remind me that I will be okay.

So thank you. Thank you for always reaching out for me. Thank you for poking your head through the darkness, for cutting away at the ropes around my wrist. Thank you for your constant reassurance.

Thank you.

 


 

This honest reflection comes from Rebecca, who has submitted both art and a Coping entry to us before. In her own words:

“We are all continuous and beautiful works in progress”

Always remember you are not alone.

You are loved.

PF

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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Societal Stigmas, Gender Norms, and their Effect on Mental Health

Something that has become increasingly bothersome to me, and I’m sure many of you, are the stigmas that society has put in place. Whether the stigmas affect those struggling with mental health, those who do not identify as a binary gender or sexuality, or those of a particular ethnic group, nationality, or religion, society has a way of creating these cookie-cutter-type images of what we are supposed to look and act like. Even though these images are near-to-impossible to recreate, we are often brutally shamed for not meeting these expectations.

We see this in visual ad campaigns where female models are stick thin, oversexualized, and often being dominated by men, and where male models are tall, dark, and rugged, often sporting a six-pack and bulging muscles.  We see this when people of the LGBTQIA community are bullied and murdered for not dressing like the gender they were assigned at birth, for publicly holding hands with someone of the same sex, and for simply not having the desire to hold anyone’s hand. We see this when people are attacked both verbally and physically for identifying with a particular religion, when people of a certain race or ethnicity are targeted and not given the same opportunities as others simply based on the color of their skin, and we see it when people who happen to look similar to whomever is labeled as “the enemy” at that point in time are attacked. And as we know, we see this when the topic of mental health is pushed further and further down on the agenda and people are told that their conditions are “all in their heads,” that their dire needs cannot be met because “other people have it worse,” and that it’s “not as bad” as a physical health condition.

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