Tag Archives: mental health

Staying quiet

August 14th, 2016

children-209779_960_720The night my brother blackened both of my eyes in a violent, alcohol-induced rage,  I think you could hear a pin drop. I wonder if I’ll ever forget the sound of his fists on my cheek; my skin was so young, so soft, that I felt like they absorbed every inch of his knuckles. My mother watched. She sobbed, she yelled. She was his next target. When I called the police, they both tried to act like everything was fine. My mother, desperate to protect her teenage son, so lost in his addiction and mental health needs, begged them not to bring him to jail. “She shouldn’t have called you, I’m sorry guys,” my mother expressed, only minutes after her head was lifted from the hardwood floor. “I think she did the right thing,” said one officer. The other said, “What do you want us to do with your brother?” My mother shot me a look and I mumbled, “It’s fine.” I remember her straightening up, as if getting ready to protect him. “Are you sure sweetheart?” he asked again. “She’s sure!” my mother quickly interjected. I nodded. Avoided eye contact. Stayed quiet.

When I went to school the next morning, neither of my parents asked me if I felt up to it, if I was okay. All of my friends thought my boyfriend had hit me, and vowed that everything would be alright if I told them the truth. As I had gotten used to, I remained silent. What was I going to say, that my 6’2” brother beat me to a pulp, and that his eyes had glazed over and hardened, had never seemed to really see me? No one wanted to hear that. People knew how siblings fought, sometimes roughed each other up a little, all in good fun. Most of my friends thought I was an only child.

In the weeks following the incident, I would run up to my room and lock my door. I thought about running away, or moving in with a close friend. I got so far as to get her parents’ approval. I got straight A’s in school, had a lot of friends, did sports, and was a pretty good kid. Every ounce of my effort went into maintaining this picture. No one knew that my anxiety disorder would often get so bad, that panic attacks would disable me for minutes at a time. My severe depression crippled me, making me fall asleep on the floor crying. It made me turn to self harming to feel any sense of control at all. I spiraled in silence, and no one noticed.

When I expressed interest in relocating for my safety, my mother vehemently denied any possibility or need to do so. If my brother got through a day sober, it meant, to her, that things were looking up. I would be fine at home, and I was making things worse again, like the night I had called for help. I heard that that night  was my fault, time and time again. I was told this to my face, with my purple, hollow eyes looking back at her. I nodded. Avoided eye contact. Stayed quiet.

It’s all too common that the siblings of individuals with substance abuse or mental health needs go unnoticed. These crises upset an entire household, especially young, impressionable siblings. They may even get blamed for triggering an episode. These individuals grow up believing that their sibling’s violence and instability is their fault, and that they can do something to help. The trauma they witness will remain with them forever; many will never receive the recognition or support they deserve to help them heal too.

It’s important that the siblings of individuals with substance abuse and/or mental health concerns have their voices heard. They often hide in the shadows, trying not to make waves. I felt shrouded in shadows for so long, that when I moved out on my own after high school, the light nearly burned my skin. People asked about me and my experiences, and I started to tell them. I began paying attention to what I nodded to. My eye contact became strong, resilient, almost defiant against what I had borne witness to in years past. And I stopped being quiet. My voice has become loud and unwavering, and it’s a gift that I use whenever I am able.

Our guest blogger is a young adult who wishes to write anonymously

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He’s a late bloomer

August 1st, 2016

late-bloomer-quoteMy son graduated high school a year late.  This was mostly due to the large chunks of time when he was hospitalized, which created gaps in his academic life.  He got his driver’s license years after most of his peers.  When he’d envision himself driving his own car, he’d feel anxiety sitting like an elephant on his chest.  It also took him far longer to get his degree at community college than he expected it would.  He’d enroll and begin classes and sometimes become so overwhelmed he had to pare his course load down to one class.  He did it, though, a handful of credits at a time.  Better late than never, I’d say to myself.

I fervently wanted these milestones for him and was (mostly) patient as they slowly happened.  But I worried.  Sometimes it was like watching paint dry or grass grow.  You are pretty sure it’s going to happen but the wait seems interminable.  And I’ll admit that while I waited, there were times when I had my doubts and wondered if he would actually accomplish these goals.

One day a relative said to me, “Relax, he’s just a late bloomer.” A late bloomer?  No one had ever said that before.  We lived in the land of therapeutic frameworks and mental health shop talk.  I thought every day about his mental health diagnosis and how to minimize its impact. I thought about challenges and mentally outlined strategies to overcome them. Late bloomer?  This was a new way, a refreshing way, to think about these things.

We live in a time of early achievers and routinely hear about people who are millionaires by age 30.  Parents enroll their children in carefully selected preschools, trying to ensure they will have a stellar academic career.   In the midst of this celebration of those beating the curve and young people achieving goals far before their peers, late bloomers are getting some attention too.  Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece in the New Yorker titled “Late Bloomers” and points out that “On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure.”  Others have written about famous late bloomers including Alexander Fleming, who discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin, at age 47 and Harlan David Sanders who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65.  The lesson?  You can’t always tell how well someone will do in adulthood by simply looking at their early years.

When we say someone is a late bloomer, it is often more of an observation than a judgement.  I like that.  It takes a lot of pressure off and recasts slowly checking off your milestones list into a “we’ll get there when we get there” kind of thing.

The attitude behind it can vary too.  Your aunt at the summer reunion can call your child a late bloomer and then compare him to others in the family who turned out just fine.  It makes you feel like it’s a family trait similar to a love of fishing or a knack for cooking. Your co-worker can label your child a late bloomer and you might hear a hidden question such as, “How are things going?” behind the term but they don’t actually say it.  You can point out that your daughter is a late bloomer and imply that wonderful things are yet to come.  It’s not clinical jargon.  It can have dozens of meanings and implications.

Inherent in the definition is the idea that most late bloomers eventually catch up.  I like that, too.  My son got his diploma and his degree in the same order as his peers.  It just took him longer.  Okay, significantly longer, but that was just right for him.

Like the rest of us, some late bloomers burst into incandescent flower and people take notice, while others have more modest achievements.  The range is pretty wide, so I could slot my son right in.  Late bloomers, bloom, that is, they arrive, get there, make hay, pull it off and wind up okay.  It’s just on a different, maybe slower, timetable.

I’m not the first to say we tend to pathologize our children far more than we need to.  As parents, we learn to speak the jargon and frame the issues in the way we need to make the system cough up what our children require.  Most of what’s been written has focused on the tendency to look at normal restlessness or distraction in children and diagnose or medicate it.  For those of us who have children already clearly diagnosed, it’s pretty easy to apply that clinical framework to things that might actually be normal.  If any child missed as much school as my son did, for instance, that child might very well graduate late.

This is the final lesson of the late bloomer: his or her success is highly contingent on the efforts of others. In Gladwell’s article, he compares two artists, Picasso and Cezanne.  Picasso was the early genius whose art took the world by storm.  Cezanne was the opposite and his best paintings were done at the end of his career. Both have paintings in world famous museums and have paintings on the 20 Most Expensive Paintings List.  Picasso has several on the list while Cezanne’s lands at #1.  Because his success came far later in his life, Cezanne depended on patrons to support his work and believe in him.  Many late bloomers, Gladwell notes, depend on the same two things – the support and belief of others.   Sounds like a parent, doesn’t it?

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Don’t pass by

May 15th, 2016

sad seated girlWhen I was in middle school and early high school, I would see kids in my grade who were struggling emotionally, and I would turn away, pretend I didn’t see their pain, and not give them another thought. I would feel bad, but I didn’t know what to do with that, and I certainly didn’t want my friends to think I cared about the super weird kid in math class who kept to herself. Teenagers can be cruel, and no way was I risking my somewhat okay level in the middle school social economy by showing compassion for someone who was so obviously different, strange, and maybe even dangerous for all I knew. No, I desperately wanted to fit in, and my status with my friends would not be jeopardized by some “emo kid.”

Three years later, I became that “emo kid” who got words like “bi-polar” and “crazy” and “weird” thrown at them as weapons instead of truths. I had my first episode, though it would be 10 years later before the mention of bipolar was brought up in a clinical setting as a feasible diagnosis, and the world as I knew it fell apart. My friends grew more and more distant as the hospitalizations piled up, and I would have given absolutely anything for a visit from my family. Everything I thought I knew about myself suddenly became symptoms of my anxiety, depression, and mania. You mean not everyone is absolutely terrified of social situations but sucks it up anyway? You mean I’m not supposed to consistently want to die at least half of every day? And you’re telling me I’m not supposed to wake up 8 to 10 times every night with bad dreams? And not everyone’s mood goes up and down as quickly as mine?

I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into depression with all this clinical exposure, and when I wasn’t in hospitals, it became harder and harder to pretend to everyone at school that I was doing well. I had appointments during school hours that I played off as doctor appointments, but were really specialists and evaluators to help with my psychiatric treatment. My grades were starting to reflect my absences as well. I was silently suffering, and no one at school bothered to ask how I was.

If I could change anything about my actions in life, it would be how I passed by that girl in middle school and did nothing as people ridiculed and ignored her. Because now I know what it’s like to not have a friend in the world to count on, and I know what it’s like to feel different and strange and unwanted by everyone you know. And how all you want to do is curl up in a ball and die, but you keep going anyway. Now, I don’t see that girl as strange, or weird, or dangerous. I see her bravery and resilience in visibly fighting a fight that none of us understood, but finding the strength to do it anyway.

Everyone who has a mental health condition, is fighting that fight in some capacity every day. Whether it’s hanging on for one more day when all you want to do is disappear forever, or dealing with those awful voices in your head that just won’t stop and are often very scary. Or going through trauma therapy or trying to get over your anxiety. Or even just talking with someone when you need to, or helping someone you think might need it. These are all very hard steps, and if someone, anyone, at school had stopped for me instead of passing me by, my journey might not have needed to take as long as it did.

It wasn’t until I was in the same shoes that I found my compassion, but it doesn’t need to get to that point. After all, we are all fighting something, some of us are just better at hiding it. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be open to embracing differences, not afraid of them. And don’t pass by.

Our guest blogger is a young adult who wishes to write anonymously.

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But you don’t act like you’re [insert mental health diagnosis here]

November 29th, 2015

Girl 1I have bipolar disorder. After years of struggling to find an appropriate diagnosis, years of misleading, suggested and “not otherwise specified” attempts to pin down what was “wrong” with me, I finally feel satisfied with the diagnosis I’ve been given. This is, of course, after an odyssey of inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations and a couple of times at residential treatment centers, which spanned almost a decade of locked treatment in my 23 years of life. That doesn’t even include the time spent in therapy.

I have been out of psychiatric facilities for over two years now, after years of truly believing that my future was forever destined to either be called “crazy” and locked up, or take a path that would lead to my eventual, self-induced demise. I was absolutely convinced that I was an awful person who deserved that bad hand that I’d been given, and that I was better off dead than living as a burden to my friends and family.

The other day, I shared my new diagnosis with a close friend, and their response was one of complete surprise and misunderstanding. “But you don’t act like you’re bipolar,” they said. I blew it off as something they said out of a lack of knowledge or understanding about mental health. But then I realized that that’s exactly the problem. Too many people dismiss people with serious mental health needs as being too “normal” or their symptoms as not being “severe enough” to need treatment. When they most need the support they are apparently not to be taken seriously.

How exactly is someone with bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, PTSD, you name it, supposed to act? Because I believe that that’s part of the problem, the belief that people with mental health needs have noticeable traits that set them apart from the rest of society. That you can pick out the “crazy” people from the crowd and somehow “protect” yourself or your family from their “dangerous” influence, as the media would have us believe. And it’s this negative misconception that leads people who need treatment, often times for their own safety, to not seek it out, to be afraid of what the people they love might think.

Well, let me reveal something to you. Mental health struggles can happen to anyone, at any point in their lives. That’s right, I said anyone. So it could be your kid’s kindergarten teacher who’s bipolar but manages well enough with the right medications and her weekly therapy sessions. It could be the employee in the office who makes everyone else laugh because bringing people joy helps keep his depression in check. And it could be you, someday. The thing that all three of those examples have in common is that all those people would be categorized in the “normal” category. They don’t “look’ “sick”…but they are.

So I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if someone confides in you about their mental health status, support them. Don’t discount their experience or not validate them because you’re only seeing the good days. And, as a whole, we need to stop thinking (consciously or unconsciously) that mental health is this scary, dangerous thing that should be feared and will *hopefully* never happen to us. But believing that, and acting accordingly, reinforces the stigma that so many of us who receive treatment experience. And wants to contribute to that?

Our guest blogger is Dani Walsh.  Dani is a 23 year old college student and mental health advocate living with bipolar disorder.  She enjoys writing poetry and singing

 

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Body Image: A Personal Struggle

October 12th, 2015

girl in mirrorI’ve never been fond of how I look. Ever since I was a young girl, my view on my looks was an issue. I’ve lived my life being told that I’m pretty, or even beautiful, but I’ve never believed it. It’s like a reoccurring nightmare. I just cannot make it go away, no matter how hard I try.

I guess it truly started in elementary school, when the kids learned what “fat” meant. People say kids can be mean, but it goes beyond that. Kids, not all of them of course, find what will make you the saddest, and they keep using it against you. Since I was overweight and vulnerable, the young children of my school used fat against me. It wasn’t fair. No one should feel like I did.

When I reached fifth grade, I hit my breaking point. I had major meltdowns that eventually put me in the hospital. At that time, my confidence was about as low as it possibly could be. I had people that were still making me feel insecure, even though they knew I was in a dark place. I understand that sometimes you can’t get something if it hasn’t been a personal battle, but a little bit of sympathy would’ve been nice. A little compassion could have gone a long way. No matter how bad my moods got, someone was always talking negatively in my ear. Maybe if more people were educated about the body image struggles I was going through and were sympathetic to that fact, I would’ve been in a better place. I couldn’t stop worrying about how people viewed me. It’s one of those feelings you can’t shake.

After being discharged from the hospital, my family and I began searching for a new school where I could fit in and maybe get some help. I toured many schools, and eventually wound up at the school I would later graduate high school from. This school provided new hope for me. The kids there seemed to like me, and I met my best friend on my first day. For a little while, I thought things were going to get better for my personal outlook. Sadly, not much changed.

I still felt alone. I felt like none of my friends understood. I had very few friends that you could consider “overweight.” That wasn’t the problem. The problem was none of them were able to put themselves in my shoes, and see what kind of horrible feelings I had about myself. They just didn’t see it.

Weight is still an issue I have. I am looking at all of my options, and researching what’s healthy and unhealthy for me. I am truly looking forward to the future. It appears to me like things will be looking up soon. My confidence in myself is slowly rising. Even at that slow pace, I feel I am bettering myself. Someday soon, I can see myself looking in the mirror and saying “wow, I’m beautiful.” It seems simple, but that’s the dream, and I am actively chasing it.

Although body image is something most people struggle with, some people feel like they are all alone. The truth is, you are most certainly not alone. Try talking to other people your age, or of any age, that you trust. You may be surprised at how they feel about their body. For me, talking to others who have similar issues is important. Not only can they help you, but you can help them.

Look in the mirror at some point and challenge yourself to say a set number of things you like about yourself. Pick a number like five or ten, and make a list in your head. It doesn’t have to be something appearance related. Feeling good about yourself in as many aspects as possible will boost your self-esteem and confidence.

Your body doesn’t define you. What you choose to do about your feelings is what’s important. Just remember, no matter what size or shape you are, you are beautiful. It may take a while to realize this, but it’ll come. Your future is bright, so take charge.

Rachel LaBrie is our guest blogger.  Rachel recently graduated high school, and wants to pursue a career in music therapy. She loves animals, and currently has 6 four legged friends.

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