Tag Archives: depression

Advocacy is power

July 27th, 2015

mother and daughter embracingMy mom was in her mid 30’s when she was first diagnosed with major depression. I remember coming home from school, hoping to see Super Mom, but instead I found her lying on the couch, fast asleep every day. I was young, and I didn’t understand why she couldn’t just snap out of it. “What is there to be this sad about?” I thought. It wasn’t until I fell into my very own bout of depression that I understood.

When I was fourteen, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with schizotypal features. I, too, began to sleep all day, and my friends wondered why I couldn’t just snap out of it. While I slowly dissolved into the living room couch, my parents fretted over my future, and it was the first time in years that my mother showed any sign of concern, or interest for that matter. Because I was so depressed, I wondered why she even bothered to try.

My parents started to educate themselves on my diagnoses. They learned how to navigate the system and advocate for my needs and best interests. They met other parents who were going through similar things. Eventually, they got me to go to a youth group and an alternative high school that helped me come out of my shell. I was making friends, using coping skills, and learning to advocate not only for myself, but also for better services for youth within the mental health system.

I felt strong again. I was speaking up at my own IEP meetings, making well-informed decisions and partnering with my parents rather than sitting on the sidelines and letting them do all the work. We made a great team. Even my transition from teen to adult was relatively smooth considering my mental health needs. It seemed like I was going to ride off into the sunset a happy camper.

This is my story. Many people have heard it — but I never delve into what happened after the happy ending. A few months shy of my turning 19, my mother’s depression came back with a vengeance. She took to lying in bed for days on end. This time it was different — it was worse than the first time around, and I was older and experienced enough to understand what she was going through. My father and I tried to rally the way they had for me, but she didn’t respond to our efforts. We felt hopeless because she had essentially given up.

In 2011, my father died and I became my mother’s caretaker at the age of 23. Despite becoming miraculously resilient against my depression and anxiety, I was still quite young for my age. I barely knew how to be an adult, let alone take care of one. On top of my mom’s mental health needs, she had mounting physical ailments as well, and I was losing my mind trying to figure out how to care for her. I had no car, limited funds and almost no support. When it felt like all hope was lost and I was going to drown, I remembered that I indeed knew how to swim.

While I did not know how to balance a check book, drive a car, or set up my mother’s oxygen tank, I did know how to advocate. I called doctors on her behalf and got them to give her the care she needed. I helped get her set up with adult DMH services so she could receive adequate supports. I helped her get into a program that helped her with independent living. My voice and determination helped my mother live again.

Today my mother is doing well. She lives on her own with minimal support — but she knows that her team is only a phone call away should she need them. She is re-learning to advocate for herself with my help, the way she taught me when I was young, and while I’m still learning the ways of adulthood, I’m using my skills to make the best of every day. I guess, as it turns out, learning to advocate all those years ago ultimately became my biggest asset.

Chandra Watts is our guest blogger.  She is a young adult who draws on her own life to change how the world sees mental illness.  She is one of the founding members of Youth MOVE Massachusetts.

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Reaching Out

April 27th, 2015

rowofkidsReaching out and helping youth and young adults is very important. To give us attention shows us that you really care. Reaching out and helping is one of the best things that anybody can do. Look at all the trouble that happens to youth on the streets every day or that’s caused by youth and young adults.  We search for support with our actions. We speak out to you with no answer. It’s our cry for help.

I am amongst the youth and have done things in the past in an attempt for attention and support. I have set fires and even fought at school. I’ve been to different programs in three different systems. I stuck with a few programs for a while but eventually ran or decided they were not for me. One program has been helping me for five years now. I think they will always be there for me.

I have been going to PPAL and Youth MOVE for five years. It is a wonderful placed to go that reaches out to you. They talk to you, ask you how you’re doing, and offer you help whenever they can. PPAL has helped me a lot. Helped with things such as getting my ID, helping me find a job, and given me people I can talk to.  PPAL has groups every week for youth and young adults. It’s a good place to talk because it’s not run by doctors or people sitting in the corner with a clipboard, it is just youth talking to each other. We have dinner together. I can also hang out with other youth and young adults that are around my age group and listen to their experiences. I can get feedback about how I can deal with some of my experiences in the past or even problems I have now.

Before coming to PPAL I was really scared to talk about anything and when I opened my gates and started talking, I felt so much better. I began coming constantly and kept getting support emotionally and now I help as well. I help set up the groups and run parts of the meetings. Sometimes I stay away for a while and am worried about going back. I worry about how I might be judged. PPAL doesn’t judge me for why I was away. They welcome me back and help me get back on track. They offer to help.

I am a troubled youth just like a lot of youth. Many of us feel alone and like we have it the worst, but you are not alone. Talk to somebody. Open up. You might find somebody who is reaching out to you. I can personally say that a lot of people at PPAL know what they are talking about. We don’t fake it. We know how you feel. We will help.

 

This blog was written by a 19-year-old young adult member of Youth MOVE Massachusetts. They have lived experience in mental health, child welfare, and juvenile justice systems. Their strengths include leadership skills and writing poetry to name just two.

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My Anger, No Longer My Danger

December 22nd, 2014

angrysadgirl4I have been angry for a long time, and I have let that anger overpower me without actually thinking about it. All I knew was that as awful as I felt, it still felt good to have something other than myself be in control, and I held on to it like a lifesaver while I tried to keep from drowning in the sea of heartache, loss and betrayal that became my life. Although I looked to the anger to save me, and even grew to kind of love it in a weird way, it didn’t come without a price.

With that anger came long and severe bouts of depression. Some days I was so desperate to stay home that I deluded myself into believing that I was physically ill, giving me the perfect excuse to cancel whatever plans I had for the day, or the entire week. I cried often, too; at home, in the car, in the grocery store, in my sleep. Everywhere. I knew I was angry and I knew I was in pain, but I didn’t know what I needed to do in order to make it stop, nor was I sure I wanted it to stop. I was comfortable in my misery. Of course, people were concerned and I got the attention I wanted and needed by outwardly expressing my anger. Other times, I was less dramatic, even secretive, and relied on my self-mutilation to communicate to those around me that I was in pain.

Very recently, a family friend took their life, and it was devastating and a real shock. I know what you’re thinking- this was my turn around. This was that life changing moment that made me realize that I didn’t want to be angry and depressed anymore, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Their death, their choice to take their own life made me think that if it was so easy for them to just end it, then why couldn’t it be just as easy for me?

I started obsessing about the idea of suicide. I didn’t exactly have a well thought out plan, but I thought that if I could just do it, get it over with, everything would be better. So I spent hours on the internet researching everything I could about suicide- the history, famous people who’d done it, different methods. To be honest, I was completely frightened by the fact that I was actually considering suicide, but I was also being extremely willful. I felt like this might be the best option. It was either that or live in pain and perpetual confusion about how I was feeling for the rest of my life.

So I started a Pro and Con list to see whether the pros or the cons about suicide would outweigh the other. Some of the cons: I would never see my family again, never see my boyfriend, my rabbits or my friends. I’d miss the trees, the stars, the moon and Harry Potter. And the pros: no more depression, no more crying, no more hurting my loved ones, no more hurting myself, and best of all, I’d get to see my father. And that’s when it hit me. The reason I’d been so angry everyday for what seems like an eternity was because I was holding on to the day my father died, every day after that and all of the events that transpired due to his death. I was angry at him for leaving me, I was angry because it was, and still is, unfair that I’ll never be able to see him again and I was angry because life was hard without him. So I held on to that anger because it was like holding on to him, and if I let go of that anger, well then I was letting go of him, too. I thought that if I didn’t get upset while thinking about him, if I didn’t cry, then I didn’t care about him, and that somehow made me a horrible daughter.

After a lot of reflection and a lot of talking and exposure, I think I’m starting to see that I can live my life while missing my dad. I still have days that I can’t seem to shake this insurmountable grief that I have, but I’m finding that I am enjoying things that I haven’t been able to in a long time. I’ve ceased my research on suicide and instead replaced it with research on holistic living, something my father also cherished. I wouldn’t say that I’m happy now, that my anger is completely gone, but I’m getting there, and I can’t help but hope that my father would be proud.

Chandra Watts is our guest blogger. She is a young adult who draws on her own life to change how the world sees mental illness. She is one of the founding members of Youth MOVE Massachusetts.

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The attention just encourages her

June 23rd, 2013

d. sharon Pruitt24, flickr, creative commons

“People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bull. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.” ― Jim Morrison

Drama queen. Melodramatic. Overreactive. Attention Seeking. Attention —- (insert your nasty moniker of choice). We’ve all heard them before. Thrown around when a person is annoyed or frustrated with another person’s behavior; I don’t think most people even realize that this too is a form of stigma. You’re invalidating the experiences and opinions of someone. They don’t realize that the message behind those words is so potentially detrimental to another person.

It’s a cultural thing in a way. We’re often taught from an early age to “buck up”. Hold things in, put on your big girl pants and get over it.. Because if I can get up every morning and deal with what life throws at me, why the heck can’t you!?  We’re not taught that anxiety means a lot more than just “hey, this is kind of uncomfortable for me.” Or that depression is so much more than “I’m pretty upset right now.” Or even that the slightest random little thing can become a trigger, which is a bigger deal than just being something you don’t like to be around. These feelings can be all encompassing, to the point often of being crippling, and need to be understood better.

I’m here to say that I am tired.

I am tired of being told that I am not allowed to be depressed because someone somewhere in this world has it worse. I am tired of being told that I am overreacting to something simply because it is a big deal to me, and not to the other person. And most of all, I am tired of being told to stop being so “attention seeking” when I react.

All human beings are social creatures. Some more than others, in a variety of different forms and methods. We operate as a species from such a wide variety of life experiences that it is foolish and ignorant to take someone’s emotions and decide they are invalid. Some seek attention through “negative” means because they have never known any other way. Some are just plain fed up with not getting attention through more socially acceptable methods to the point that even negative attention is better than nothing.  That doesn’t make them a “bad” person. Just a person who copes with things differently than you, and that can with time and effort be guided in the right direction.

Instead of shaming or stigmatizing people,  what we need to practice is support. If a person is making an effort to reach out to you, through whatever means that may be, at least it is an effort. At least this person recognizes they may not be able to get through something all by themselves.  I’m not talking about those whose lives thrive on creating chaos around them, that is entirely different, although still valid. They too are still human. I’m talking about the girl who in a moment of loneliness and desperation makes a suicide threat because she legitimately feels like nobody cares. The person struggling with circumstantial and perhaps other mental hurdles, who is venting because if they don’t get it out somehow they feel like they might explode. The person who is so tired of being constantly bombarded with neverending optimism from others that it’s starting to feel condescending.

Listen folks: sometimes LIFE SUCKS. This is a fact, and that is ok. It is ok to be sad, or angry or any other number of emotions. When we arrived here on this earth what was the first thing we did? We CRIED. Because we were small, helpless and frighted, and needed support. Because we were alive, and part of being alive is to feel.

So the next time someone in your life is having an emotional reaction to something, I want you to do something for me. Don’t offer advice unless they ask,  don’t tell them “Oh I totally understand” if you’ve never been where they are, don’t patronize and say “It’s ok” because in that moment, no it is most certainly not ok.  All I want you to do is listen.

Brittany Bell is our guest blogger.  She is a 24 year old youth advocate at Youth MOVE Massachusetts who is studying to become a youth counselor.  She hopes to bring awareness and support to the learning disability and mental health communities by sharing her experiences.

 

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Lapse back into depression

April 25th, 2013

Sleeping teenI am widely known for my past experiences with mental health. Since the age of 15, I have been very outspoken about what I’ve been through, what I’ve been diagnosed with, what medications I’ve taken, what works, and what doesn’t. Everyone knows that with the help of my parents and a large support team I’ve gone through hell and back, survived and become an advocate for youth like myself who don’t feel like they have a voice. I have been told that I’m one of the lucky ones, brave, and most often, strong. These days, I feel anything but.

For the last year and a half, I’ve been battling a severe bout of depression, striving to remain resilient, but slowly sinking back into the all too familiar pit of despair that I’ve grown to hate- and woops! I’ve forgotten my ladder, so climbing right back out isn’t an option. I’ve been trying to claw my way up the hard way but without much success.

It’s not hard to discern when or why I became depressed this time around. One of my biggest supports and best friends was my father and he died unexpectedly in April 2011. Following his death, it seemed like everything fell apart- my family, my structure, my life, my sanity. For the first time in my life, I became a caretaker, as my disabled mother became my responsibilty, and I had little-if any- support in taking care of her. My boyfriend and I moved into an apartment with her in an unsafe neighborhood where we endured a lot of family drama, multiple break-ins, and all the while, I tried to find healthy ways to mourn the loss of my father. It was impossible because I found that I was so busy taking care of everyone and everything else that I forgot to take care of myself too.

For me, this lapse back into depression feels like a slap in the face, especially remembering how hard I worked to get out if it in the first place. I have to remind myself often that sometimes this does happen, and that I can’t beat myself up over it, but that’s hard to do when I get mad at myself for staying in my pajamas all day, wrapped up in a blanket and refusing to leave the house. I know I can’t live in my bed forever, and it’s going to take a lot of effort on my part to find the motivation to function again, so I’ll continue to live day to day, one step at a time.

Chandra Watts is our guest blogger.  She is a young adult who draws on her own life to change how the world sees mental illness.  She is one of the founding members of Youth MOVE Massachusetts.

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