“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


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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The Happiness Video Project by Zach Cooper: A Preview

Hi, I’m Zach and this is my project.

One day I decided I wanted to film a bunch of people being happy for me. Real, genuine smiles. Everyday you go on social media and see negativity in some sort of way so I kind’ve wanted to break the day to day negativity down with something extremely happy and positive. You also see people claiming life is about spending money and traveling to be happy, but I think you can find happiness right in your backyard.

The idea started with filming a few people but snowballed into filming over 40 different people all smiling and doing something they love to do. My project still needs more people so I’m hoping to finish the project in 2017 but need help, I just moved from Massachusetts to New York City and don’t really know anyone here. Thankfully ‘Dear Hope’ said they could help me by sharing this project, so reach out!

I don’t bite. Come say hi and check out some of my work! I love meeting new people and guarantee we can have some smiles.

Instagram: zachcoop

Portfolio: https://productionzsc.myportfolio.com/projects


Be on the lookout for Zach’s full project early next year back here on Dear Hope.

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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Watching Her Go

She keeps saying she’s leaving.

But I don’t know where she’s going.

She keeps telling me she’s done.

But nothing has been finished.

She keeps thinking she’s gone numb.

But feels it when I pinch her.

She keeps crying in the dark.

But there’s no sad movie on.

She keeps missing my calls.

But I know it’s on purpose.

She keeps drinking more wine.

But it’s becoming a problem.

She keeps swallowing more pills.

But she’s already exhausted.

She keeps screaming my name.

But I have already lost her.


This poem was submitted by our friend Kelsey. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Always remember that you are not alone.

You are loved.

AC

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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“Confession of a Surviving Liar” – Coping This Is Who We Are, Entry 24

Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide.

Below, we have a coping piece written by our friend Icess Fernandez Rojas. This piece is not only powerful and emotional, but a symbol of strength. Thank you, Icess, for  bravely sharing your story with us.


“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.”

― James Baldwin

“We each survive in our own way.”

― Sarah J. Maas

July 2015

I am a liar.

I know how to react when the question comes. I know what will happen if I answer with the truth. I know what I will do if I think about the truth too long.

“Icess, do you want to hurt yourself or others?”

“No. Of course not,” I say straight-faced, like answering whether I wanted red or white wine with my dinner.

A check mark on the clipboard. Then the next question. Topic dropped. Another fooled.

If I answered yes, I would be immediately admitted somewhere where I couldn’t hurt myself, watched for a day or two, and then something about medicine. I wanted to get to the medicine part, to the part where chemistry was going to fix me.

The real answer to that question was yes. I thought about killing myself like people planned out their vacations. There was a letter crafted. Instructions. Simple. Direct. Perhaps reassuring. Hopefully reassuring.

My death would be just as simple, just as direct. No blood. Nothing to clean up. Neat. Clean. Even in my death I thought of others, of the people behind me who have to clean up the mess literally and figuratively.

Damn it, not even my death was my own.

But the pain was. All mine. Piercing like a needle through hot flesh, every breath labored in pain only to birth more pain. Living was painful. Breathing was painful. Blinking was painful.  The thought of waking up in the morning was too much to bare. No, it wasn’t going to be better tomorrow. I desired to end. I desired it all to end. Pain and life intertwined.

So, on an ordinary night in July 2015, after months of painful tears and begging the universe to make it all stop, I found myself in my one bedroom apartment in North Texas holding two things — a bottle of sleeping pills and a cell phone. Relief or salvation. End or continue.  My hand was steady. The decision was obvious.  I just wasn’t strong enough, brave enough to deal with this depression.

And so I lied.

November 2014

My friend Delia knew something was wrong long before I did.

She suffered from depression herself. Has for a long time. She’d been to enough doctors and therapists that she could write her own book. In fact, she’s planning on it. Dr. Delia giving Dr. Phil a run for his money.

It was a rough week when Delia and I had dinner. My body felt like it went three rounds with a kickboxer and lost. But Delia wanted yucca fries and I wanted liquor and the only place to get both was Gloria’s Restaurant.

“Dude, I think you’re depressed,” she said after appetizers and the first sangria. She said “depressed” stretching each syllable nearly past its breaking point.

It had been months since I had written anything more than a grocery list. A writer’s dry spell like the Sahara in August. I had moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area six months before and, yes, nothing. I’d had dry spells before but this time, it was different. It felt off, uneven like the grain of two different wood pieces.

“Because I can’t write? Maybe it’s just not meant to be,” I shrugged. “Some people are writers and other aren’t. Maybe I’m not.”

“I can’t imagine you not being a writer.”

Writing was the warm comforter on a cold day. When there was nothing there were words, I could gorge myself on them. The power of the right word was the power of the human condition. I was fascinated by it, in love with it, deep, real love that just kept getting deeper with every passing breath. When my dad died in his sleep, they were there. When I felt alone, they were my company. They understood me when my family didn’t. They allowed me to dream with my eyes open.

Words were mine to own and do with as I wished. Words were my lover. My lover had abandoned me. Maybe it was time to move on? Maybe this thing that was so important in my life was only supposed to be there for a short time? Love doesn’t last forever, eventually death separates to lover from the loved.

“Dude, you’re depressed. You should see someone,” she said dipping a yucca fry into the marinade.

Depressed like sad? I knew better than to stuff depression into a three letter word. Sad is inaccurate. When I started suffering from panic attacks years earlier, I knew it could turn into depression acting like a gateway drug. Panic attacks, the marijuana of mental illness.

I mirrored Delia, stuffing my face so I didn’t have to say anything. That word hung above table eight like a black umbrella. Did anyone else see it, see us, the awkward silence that just sat down next to us? Our food came and we scooped rice and black beans into our mouths. Later, when we talk about this moment, my dear friend will say she felt like I was upset with her for bringing it up. It wasn’t anger but disbelief. There was nothing to be depressed about. I left a career with an industry that was going up in flames. Friends were being laid off faster than people had time to process. I was one of them but I bounced back quickly, leaving a life that barely allowed me to live for one that gave me the space to breathe. Now was the time to have the life I dreamed about — marriage, kids, house, stability. Maybe writing. Maybe my first love would return. This funk, this grumpiness, this weight on my chest was just the adjustment period.

“There are people who live without writing and they’re okay,” I said.

“But you’ve been writing as long as I’ve known you.”

I don’t look like depression. I just needed to change my outlook. So what if I didn’t write another word. I had a roof over my head, money in the bank. And work, there were some bumps there but I was still learning.

I just needed to stop being sad and start being happy. I needed to have more gratitude for what I had and where I was. For me, if I increased my gratitude and my happiness then this doom and gloom would fade. I was sure of it.

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Journal Entries Nov. 2014 – Dec. 2014

Nov. 24, 2014

Gratitude is difficult.

There’s no other way to say it but that it is difficult. Does that mean it is worth doing? Yes. It is worth doing and practicing. Oh, but it’s so difficult.

Today, the difficult came as it usually does, at work. When the students ask my opinion I feel elated! But when they go to my boss or she disagrees with me, it cuts me down to size, it makes me wonder whether I am really here to make a change or just keep the status quo. I see so much potential here and yet something I know well, digital, I don’t feel like I can lead because the students know I can be overwritten.

Dec. 15, 2014, 2:15 a.m.

It’s 2:15 in the morning, I’m just now feeling caught up with work.

 

Dec. 15, 2014, later on that day

I am exhausted. My body melted into the couch. I am sitting and wondering what else to do. What is it like to not run but to be still.

I am bored and I don’t want to say it but I am. I know that next year I’ll be dating but what about what’s important to me? What about my writing? I’ve all but abandoned it. Maybe that is why I’m sad. I am so used to having something to look forward to, to hope for something big. What do I have left to hope for now? Continuing my writing feels too difficult to me. I had so many hopes for my life. By now, I thought I’d be living in some foreign country. France. I should be speaking French and having adventures. I feel like I’ve done something wrong as if I’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. It’s not where I want to be and I don’t know what to do about it.

Dec. 17, 2014, 8:41 a.m.

Not sure to what to write today. The day is still young. It’s 8:41 in the morning. I was up early today. That’s rare. I feel like something is wrong.

Dec. 21, 2014, A letter to my younger self

Dear Icess,

It’s the Christmas of your 36th year. It was a difficult year.  So many things changed for you. You had so much pain and so much many things you believed in no longer exist. Your world is topsy-turvy.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t good stuff. There is. You have a job and a boss that you like and believes in you. You hadn’t had that for a long time. You live in a bigger place now, a nicer place. It’s worth the extra $100 a month. Diva is happier. Your mother is happier.

But there is something off. For some reason, you are not happy. You’re not sure why.

You’ll spend time thinking and wondering. The closest you’ll come to something is that you need a social life. Then when you think about it, the thought of it all it exhausts you. But you know that this is what you should do.

You stopped writing. It hurts! But you just can’t write anymore.

Maybe you’re depressed?

February 2014

In retrospect, that July night was a long time coming.

When I moved to Arlington, the scars of working in the news business were still fresh. The panic attacks, which started in 2011, were fewer and controlled.  They had come for me like heart attacks, pounding on my rib cage and taking my breath. But with therapy, they were nearly a memory.

The job I moved to Texas for was to help privileged (some) and at times spoiled children of college age put out a newspaper every week and update a website every day. After reporting for a dozen years and teaching for a couple, this was a job that seemed cut just for me. I love teaching. I loved journalism. What more could I ask for?  Add to this that my boss was someone I had worked with, although indirectly, at my first newspaper job in Corpus Christi and it was kismet.

            Text Message from the boss: I’m so glad you’re here. (May 2015)

However, three months in, there was a shift in the way she approached me. As a result, I started walking on egg shells at work. Nothing I did was right, ever. Conversations with her were mixed – one moment they were okay and the next she spoke to me as if I were one of the children. When I tried to manage the students she always undermined me.

It was all my fault. The undermining. Her treatment of me. She convinced me it was. It was in her notes, she’d say.

I’d ask if she really wanted me there since she was doing my job and hers.

She’d say that I tried to quit. When I denied it, she said it was also in her notes.

And then she’d send me text messages like this:

Feb. 19, 2014: Thank you for today. It was your newsroom today, and I like the checklists and what you’re implementing. Great energy. You were in your element.

Or like this:

Feb. 23, 2014: love you, hon. We’re of like mind.

I felt worthless. I never knew if she was happy or wanted to gut me like a fish. Damned if I do or don’t. And I knew she was wrong, but I didn’t know I was right. Gaslighting wasn’t a term I heard or knew about long after leaving. She was a classic gaslighter, making me think everything was my fault, therefore, making me feel guilty.

To this day, I don’t know how she did that. I’m a girl from Houston’s Eastside. In my neighborhood, we handled people like her in a certain way involving fists, curse words, and a brick. But professionalism being what it is, the wounds of my former career still bleeding, and with no one to talk to, isolated even from my adult coworkers, I swallowed this situation even though I knew it was poisoning me.

By February, the first thoughts of suicide popped into my head and then popped out.  Too quick to pay attention to it.

painful feelings

Journal entry: Feb. 12, 2015

            Today was difficult. I thought of what my suicide letter would say. It would say that I was tired. That life is painful, too painful to take in. It hurts to live and that I was sad, too sad.

            I asked God to take me. I’m too chicken shit to do it myself. I asked God to take me because I just couldn’t anymore. I couldn’t be in this life and in this pain.

            Something went wrong with my life. I don’t know how to fix it. I just don’t want to do this anymore.

            What is left when we are gone? What proves to the world that we were here, that we existed?      

Memorial Day Weekend 2015

Friday afternoon ended in breathless tears.

In my apartment, the panic attack was so mild I hardly noticed it. Maybe I used to it like a leaky faucet you learn to live with? Then came an uncontrollable sadness. Then darkness. The lights stayed off. Outside, I heard my neighbors getting ready for the night, music, chatting, laughing. My cat curled up next to me on the couch, the one I was so happy to purchase from an actual store and not from a garage sale. I fell asleep crying.

Saturday morning. More crying. Hopelessness curled up inside my chest, wedging itself inside the open spaces.  I couldn’t breathe. The world continued to laugh outside my front door. Mocking me. Teasing me. No food. No drink. Dehydration from tears.

Sunday and I was still in Friday’s work clothes. I forced myself to shower. St. Ives washed away my tears. “So much pain,” I said to myself with no one to hear. I repeat it until it’s the only thing in my brain, the only thing I knew better than my name.

So much pain.

So much pain.

So much pain.

I don’t want to live … anymore.

It had been bubbling there for months, a stray thought I caught before it bloomed into something else. A wish. A statement. An item on a to-do list. Driving from work to home and home to work it lingered in the back of my brain like an ear worm. It would just be easier to not live…that’s where the sentence ended. Sometimes, I’d force myself to finish it adding the word “here” or “in Arlington” or “in DFW”. But now I thought it out loud, said it. It existed.

I don’t want to live anymore.

I don’t want to live anymore.

I don’t want to live anymore.

It would be so much easier. My life was a joke. My life was a fucking hole. I’d never have the life that I wanted. I have fucked up my life and there’s no fixing it.

By Monday, I was on the floor of my apartment crying when Delia called.

“I can’t stop crying.” The words were muddy.

“Go to the doctor now. Right now. Call the office.”

Why exist?

I wasn’t always like this. I was happy once. I smiled all the time and cracked jokes. I use to sing because I loved it and spent hours in my room practicing. I wrote, too.

I always knew I’d write books. Always. Journalism was my training ground and meal ticket. I loved it anyhow. For a long time, I dedicated my life to being the best reporter I could be and was zealous about it. Ambition was my fuel and I had enough to push through a career that’d rather see me in its police blotter than writing its front page stories.

In my family, we are the survivors. My parents left their home countries — Guatemala and Cuba — for a new life here. They didn’t know the culture, the customs, and the language. They not only adjusted, they thrived bringing into this world two children. They achieved the American Dream with hard work and the sweat of their brow.

They didn’t have time to be depressed. It was just something they didn’t do.

So, what caused my depression? Nothing and everything is the short answer. Experts say there is no direct cause but there’s some things that contribute to it. Psychological, biological, and environmental factors. I didn’t know it at the time but I had two out of three. Biological and environmental factors. With a job that required more hours than there were in a waking day and a boss who was terrific at making me feel like everything was my fault, it was only a matter of time before something cracked.

I thought you were stronger than that…

The voice in my head reminded me that I came from a long line of fighters in my family. My sister also reminded me of that when I called her.

“I thought you were stronger than that.”

“I guess I’m not.”

It’s not about strength but health. Illness takes many forms but the hardest to understand, to have compassion for, are the ones that allow someone to function while the disease remains hidden. Outside of my head I could walk, talk, and work as if it were effortless. Inside, I was crumbling. Mornings were a mix of crying and sweet talking myself out of bed, promising that if the day was too hard I could come straight home.

But there were moments of clarity, pure glass, where all was well. Those moments, however, were as long as a wink. Then the free fall would happen and sometimes there wasn’t a net to catch me even though I had always managed to pick myself up.

Here’s the thing though, if I had a terminal disease would I have been accused of weakness? If I spent weeks in a hospital bed, would my boss still blame me for not getting my work done? If Death cloaked its arm around me, would I hear from my so called friends?

I was alone. I felt alone. Why exist?

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Memorial Day Weekend 2015

The doctor referred me to the local psychiatric hospital. He couldn’t help me, he said.

I knew the feeling. I cried some more.

When I walked into the hospital, I thought the waiting room would swallow me whole. Part of me wished it did. Potted plants stuffed in dark corners with shiny, waxy leaves that gave up their brighten-up-the-place function long ago. There were several rows of chairs with a shade of green I’d only seen during Golden Girls re-runs. The entire waiting room, illuminated by a cloudy afternoon and Fox News on the television, tried its best to be professional on a budget and lost that battle. Instead, it reminded me that this wasn’t a social call. This was where people went when things didn’t go well.

Periodically, stark white double doors swung open, exposing the building inside. That’s where they kept the light. From what I could see, everything past the doors was florescent bright.

According to that National Alliance on Mental Illness, 10 to 14 million people have clinical depression symptoms. That’s that persistent sad or irritable mood, the changes in sleep, appetite, and energy. It’s hard to think. Concentration and remembering things can be difficult. The things that used to be interesting or fun aren’t anymore. Then the guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness come. And finally the money shot, the thoughts of suicide. That’s where I was. Hopeless. Yes, that was the right word. The right feeling.

My name was called. A happy person with a badge buzzed me past the white doors. She stopped me and held out her hand. She wanted my purse. It wasn’t allowed to go any further but my phone could go with me. I handed it over and she waved a metal detector around me like a wand. Wish it would make me want to continue living.

Shiny happy person then escorted me into a windowless room. The green plastic couch at the psychiatric hospital was about as old as I was and just as damaged. My seams were coming undone, too. The luster that had made me appealing at one point, even to myself, had vanished.

The room was cold and except for the couch, the faded posters of fake flowers, the interviewer, and me, it was empty. If these cinder-blocked walls could speak, they’d ask me how a nice girl like me got to this point. ‘What happened, sweetie that you started crying on a Friday in the fetal position and didn’t stop until you got here, in this place? You still want to cry. You’re being brave. You can fool the woman with the clipboard but not me. You’ve hidden your kleenex under your leg.’

“So, do you want to hurt yourself, Icess?”

“No.” (Yes)

She moved on. Of course, she did.

Two hours later she handed me a list of things. 1) Depression and Anxiety. That’s what I have. As if I had a cold or the measles or something. 2) The name of my new best friend, a psychiatrist and his friend, the prescription pad. Appointment needed to be made or they’d make one for me. Fair warning. 3.) A support group that would help me cope.

***

When I went to work, I told my boss. Kept the details general, just what she needed to know. I went to the hospital. I’m sick but I’ll be better soon. I’ll be leaving early every Thursday.

“If you need to take more time in the morning, go ahead and let me know,” she said with concern on her face.

At the time, I didn’t know that concern was a trap, a lie, the beginning of the unraveling. At the time, what I heard from her was I see you, please feel better, we’ll make adjustments. At the time, I saw her eyes tear up like she cared. At the time, I thought it may get better, I may get better, even though there was still the pain.

At the time, I didn’t see the freight train coming.

June 2015

“You’ll need the pills in case you can’t sleep.”

My new doctor scratched the prescription on his gleaming-white pad and handed the page over along with a new dosage for the blue happy pills. Wellbutrin makes you feel well, I thought to myself. It starts with a flutter, an early morning flutter that wakes you up. Then after that, somehow, the world is all unicorns and cotton candy.

I had been taking them for awhile and was feeling better. So, naively, I thought he’d take me off of them.

“Some patients said they have trouble sleeping when they are on Wellbutrin,” he said. “But be careful, these are habit forming.”

I didn’t fill the sleeping pill prescription for weeks after. I was afraid of it. Habit forming, he said. There were enough habits I was trying to get rid off.  Like the habit of writing my suicide note on the way home from work every night.

 

Created sometime between Feb and July 2015

Mom,

It was just too much. It hurts too much. I can’t take it. So much pain. So much pain. Please try to understand. I just couldn’t anymore. I tried. I love you.

Please don’t cry,

Icess

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July 2015

From that night, I just remember red, my red couch. I loved it because it was mine first. No one owned it before me like no one owned my words.

I remember red and laying on the couch. There was a phone in my hand and on the line was my mom. I remember her being worried. Saying this like how one says things when they are being careful. Are you okay. No. What’s wrong. I don’t know. I’m worried. Me too. I can’t breathe. Why. I don’t know. Pain. Inside. All inside pain.

I remember the sleeping pill prescription in the bathroom. They were in my travel makeup bag. There were 30 small, white, habit-forming pills.

I remember the pills and then that was all I could think about.

I remember saying I was going to do it. Then. Right then. My eyes were cried raw. Mi’ja, por favor no. The other pills, the happy pills, stopped working. Icess, please don’t. Or maybe I stopped taking them. I don’t remember.

Mi’ja contesta me. Icess, mi’ja, por favor. No.

I’m just so tired. It hurts too much, mama. Ya no puedo.

I remember the bottle. I remember the phone. It rang. And it rang again. And again. And the bottle was in my hand. And the phone rang. And the bottle was in my hand. I wanted pills all in my mouth. All of them.

And the phone rang. And rang. And rang.

I don’t remember anything else.

Nov. 2015

I didn’t think I’d have anything to be thankful for by the time my family and I sat down to a turkey dinner.

About a week or two after that July night, I was fired. It took me less than 10 minutes to pack my entire office in twin banker’s boxes and 15 minutes to make a decision. It was time to go home. There was nothing for me there, no friends, no projects or relationships. I existed for a job and a situation that wanted to end me.

I can write about the adjustment of coming home after not living there for 12 years. I could allow it to be fodder for a comedic, feel-good movie starring an up-and-coming starlet. But it would be a lie and I’m not a liar anymore.

So, on Thanksgiving 2015, I was home, in a job search, and counting pennies like I did when my family was on welfare. And yet, there was so much to be thankful for — the air in my lungs being the top of my list.

“I didn’t sleep last night,” Mom said yawning in the middle of the day. She was still in her pajamas and the TV set roared with someone singing during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

“Why?” The smell of roasted turkey made my stomach crazy.

“I was watching you sleep.”

“Why were you doing that,” I asked, surprised.

“I’ve been doing that since you came back,” she said in her Guatemalan Spanish. Her tired voice trembling. “You don’t sleep. It’s like you’re fighting with someone. You’re not yourself. You’re not the daughter I know.”

She’s right. I am a stranger to her now and a stranger to myself. Depression doesn’t stop because you’ve flushed the pills down the toilet. Depression doesn’t stop because your mother watches you sleep in fear. Depression continues. It changes you, often. You become a kaleidoscope changing so often it can be difficult to recognize yourself from an hour ago.

Sometimes, I cry for no reason. Sometimes, I’m quiet and don’t speak for hours. Sometimes, I think what’s the point. Sometimes, I just prefer not speaking.

Here’s the truth of my life: there will probably never be a time when I don’t remember that bitch of a year or when I don’t realize how close I came to being seduced into not existing. This experience has become my litmus test when meeting new people or doing new things — would this person care if I lived or died, can this situation make me feel helpless?

Returning home wasn’t about trying to bounce back or licking wounds. And just because you change cities doesn’t mean you stop wanting to kill yourself. This isn’t about coping either. It’s survival. In this war between living and dying, I choose neither. I choose truth, to not lie, to take my battle wounds and make them beautiful, to use words like bandaids.

I choose confession.

I hug my mom every time she says I’m not the daughter she knows. In the months after that July night, she has said it often, each time it’s a surprise to hear. Each time I explain that the old Icess, the daughter she knew, no longer exists. It’s just this one, the woman who lives moment to moment making sure she does just that — live.

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A very big thanks to Icess for sharing her incredibly open and honest piece. Thank you for being brave and sharing your story with our community. To read more of her works, you can follow Icess on Twitter here, “Like” her on Facebook here, and visit her website here.

Always remember you are not alone.

You are loved.

AC

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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Coping: This Is Who We Are dear hope

The Lie that Ableism Feeds Us

First let me be honest with myself and you.

I have been here before.

I have been so almost well that I start thinking that it might just be all in my head, that I could wield my will like a magic wand and wave all of this away.

I seem to have an almost recuperation cycle, where I begin to feel guilty, lazy, pathetic.

I day dream about doing laundry independently, washing dishes at all, taking dates out for fun nights on the town, walking by myself in the rain, hugging my children without coughing, being a “productive member of society” again.

That is always accompanied by a deep, subtle in it’s expression, but pervasive sense of self doubt which leads me to both question how I have handled my illness *am I just being lazy* and push myself to “try harder.”

Let me be clear, this always eventually results in my body crashing hard, usually in a pretty scary way.

Because my illness is real.

I am not being lazy

I am not just giving up

If I actually gave up, I would die. I am not actually exaggerating. This world, which by and large I am not in any way compatible with, would kill me.

But it is still hard not to listen to the world that measures worth in productivity, in hours worked, in dollars earned. It is hard not to listen to the well meaning people with suggestions and advice who just know I could do this or do that. It’s hard not to listen to the pity eyes and good intentions of loving relatives who are just so worried about me.

So let me tell you, and let me tell me

One more time

For the folx in the back

And the folx in the back of my mind
I am real and I am doing just fine

I am real and I am doing just fine
even when I would like your help, I don’t need your saving or your salvation

I have value

I have worth

I work damn hard, thank you very much

Even when I am not fine, I am doing the best I can

Repeat after me

Even when I am not fine, I am doing the best I can

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A huge thanks to Selissa Leonard for this powerful and insightful submission. You can find more of her work by visiting her website, here.

Always remember that you are not alone.

You are loved.

AC

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

Follow us for more posts, inspiration and art on FacebookTwitterTumblr, and Instagram

Creative Pieces dear hope poetry

Quote of the Day: 10/27/16

A quote I came across today that reminded me of the beliefs we have here at Dear Hope.

“I think people that are driven to make art are coping with things – anxieties or what have you. You feel boiling rage or crushing depression without knowing why, eventually engaging in a lot of coping mechanisms you aren’t aware of. The difference between then and now is just awareness, knowing where it all comes from, what the dangers can be, being able to hopefully exert some control over everything so that I’m not obliviously self destructive or wasting my energy.”

-Greg Puciato of the Dillinger Escape Plan

Source

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