Article by Sammi Sumampong
Edit and Blog Design by Christy Zigweid
Photo by Ryan MacGuire via Pixabay CC
Photo made using @WordSwagApp
During 2010, I suffered a mental breakdown that led me to the required seventy-two hour stay in the psych ward. After my stay, I attended an outpatient therapy group in which I was introduced to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a cognitive behavioral treatment that was developed by American psychologist Marsha M. Linehan to treat chronically suicidal patients who were diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The treatment combines traditional cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness techniques. Even though I don’t have borderline personality disorder, DBT has made a huge impact in decreasing my anxiety, anger, resentment, and other uncomfortable emotions.
Unlike other traditional mental health treatments, DBT focuses on accepting and tolerating distress rather than pushing it away. This is the mindfulness part. Here are some methods I still use from DBT:
1. Instead of viewing my anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings as bad, I view them in a neutral manner. It helps me control my reactions and analyze my situation.
2. If someone or an event makes me uncomfortable, I make a story of my emotions:
Going through those steps lifts my focus away from the person or event that affects me, and helps me think through my next steps.
3. Another strategy I use that’s part of DBT is problem solving. If I’m anxious about something I try to have back up plans just in case the worst happens. It helps me prepare and realize that the “worst that can happen,” isn’t so bad after all.
4. My favorite strategy from DBT is the one I use most often and that is accepting my emotions. I experience my emotions, all of their ugliness, accept it, and it dissipates on its own. I like this strategy because it allows me to experience my emotions rather than distract them, which is something that always bothered me with other therapy methods.
Even though DBT was designed for borderline personality disorder, the distress tolerance exercises can be applied to other mental illnesses and dealing with difficult events and people.
About the Author
Yes, you read that right. I am quitting. I am going to stop this circus of being stuck inside my head. It’s been holding me back in my writing, parenting, and interactions with others for a long time, often making me feel as though I am not good enough at anything; a dangerous place to be when suffering from depression and anxiety.
I’m prone to the perfectionism trap as a writer and creative and it has swallowed me whole. I’ve been bogged down with feeling like I have to do everything: creating a platform, managing social media, writing a blog, writing the novel I’ve been working on since 2013, and a long list of other things indie authors are in charge of. I cannot get past the mental block inside myself when I write and often feel as though I fall short, unable to tell a good story or help anyone. All of this has become a vicious cycle of wanting to help but feeling as though I’m not, so I second guess everything and dig myself back into the hole I’ve tried so hard to get out of. Day after day the stress of being locked inside my head, analyzing every move I make, has forced me to pull away from my family and miss out on precious moments. It’s tearing me apart. Outside I refuse to be a supermom, but inside I am doing just that, feeling like I have to do everything on my own.
I’m here to say, I can’t do it on my own. And that’s okay. Because I’ve realized I am the one holding me back. The constant chatter in my head fed by depression and anxiety has clouded everything I do; I often can’t see through the thick fog hanging over me. While I am okay for a while, it’s not long before the chatter starts again, and I fall right back into that dark place, defeated and stuck before I’ve even moved. That’s no way to live.
This winter I’ve been caught in my own internal snowstorm, laden with icy comment daggers. Earlier I said I was quitting. Am I quitting writing? Absolutely not. Life without writing would be like hell. Am I quitting on myself? As much as my depression would like me to, I will not give up. But here’s what it does mean. It means that I am going to do things that make me feel worthwhile. And as I start to heal from all of this negative chatter and move forward, I will write about it and continue to write fiction stories. It’s time for me to step back get my priorities straight. I need to take care of myself or I fear I won’t be here to see what happens on the other side.
If you are struggling and want to give up, please don’t. Take a break. Do something you love. Give yourself permission to take the time to do these things, otherwise, you won’t be helping yourself at all. I said in another blog post, “My illness doesn’t define me.” Your illness doesn’t define you either. Stay strong. You can quit the things that make you miserable, but don’t give up on yourself. The world needs you.
About the Author
Article by Rebecca Shafer
Edited by Maureene Danielle G
Blog Post Layout & Design by Christy Zigweid
Photo made using @WordSwagApp
As I sit here with a blank page, an eager cursor waiting for me to write about eating disorders; I am thinking to myself, "Why did I starve myself for so many years? Why did I exercise every calorie I put into my body? Why was I consumed with every inch of my body?" The answer is simple; my emotions were everywhere, unregulated and I needed a way to survive.
My only remedy at the time for survival was to starve my body, go numb, and not feel anything. I could not think for myself, as my eating disorder thought for me. So a vicious cycle began. I would starve as my anorexia told me I'm fat, ugly, unlovable, and worthless; then I would go for a run to clear my mind. And repeat.
Think about it. Food is an important part of everyday life’s celebrations and disappointments. It is there during baptisms, weddings and funerals. Food brings friends and family together. In contrast, eating disorders are the ultimate source of division.
I am anorexia. I seek to kill. I take the basics of human existence, food and water, and I create terror. The terror that if one calorie "too many" is consumed, then my victims whole being is worthless. Their existence is not only a waste, but a heavy burden to those around them. One is an even heavier burden to those who pretend to care or love them. No one actually cares about my victims; this is the story I engrain into not just their thoughts, but their entire self. Whenever they try to think of love, joy, or hope, I replace it with weight, calories, food ingredients, exercise and body image. It works, too. Not because anyone allows me in, but because I am stronger than any defense. Give me enough time and my victim will starve, pass out, and die. I win. Or better yet, I'll drive him/her mad and he/she will save me the trouble.
In Matilda the Musical there is a song titled “Quiet” that expresses well what it is like to live with a mental illness. It speaks of being around others and hearing noises, but comprehending nothing and becoming agitated by the noises that will not shut up; even after the people are quiet. I highly recommend if you think you know a loved one who may be suffering to listen to this track.
If you are reading this and think someone might be anorexic, look up the warning signs and develop a plan to help them.
I was blessed with family and friends who expressed their concern, forced me to get treatment, and now I am here to tell you about what it is like to be recovering from an eating disorder. This can be everyone’s ending, and awareness is the first step.
About the Author
A few people have asked me whether I know what I'm going to blog about before I start writing. Sometimes yes and other times no. To help me, I've made a list of topics I want to cover and keep adding to it, but I write whatever I feel like that day. I make sure I plan a time to sit and write, but don't know what will come out until I write 'hello...' I normally type very quickly and the words flow, so I've never started writing a blog and deleted it or not been able to finish it.
People give me topics sometimes that they are interested in and I'm able to write about them, but others I don't have any experience of and want to keep my blog open, honest, and helpful. I can't write about what I have no experience or feelings of. Something might happen in a day or I might be thinking of something and know that's my next blog and I can start it mentally before getting to my computer.
I like to think about what would have helped me to read when I was diagnosed and focus on that to help others. I find blogging therapeutic because whatever I have written about I have been able to think about, reread, read it to my husband, and talk about it. I also know my loved ones can read it and understand me better.
Another question I am asked a lot is what I feel like being so open on the internet. Knowing anyone can read it, using my real first name, using my personal photos, and sharing the links on my Twitter and Facebook accounts. So how does it make me feel? At first I was nervous. It's a big deal to say "this is me" so publicly. But it all started with my first vlog on YouTube about my depression. I needed to speak about it even if it was to a camera. I planned to keep the video for myself but after watching it, I got the courage to put it on. I'd relied on YouTube videos for information when I was first diagnosed and thought the more videos out there, the better for others. It soon turned into blogging because I prefer to write and my camera wasn't the best!
I was a little worried about my new work colleagues and future new friends reading it if they came across it but soon got over this. This is me and I'm proud to be me and what I'm writing about. New people in my life will soon get to know the real me and my blog is 100% real.
I'm not too worried about trolling. It happened on my Twitter account so I replied a little, then blocked the person. I didn't need to deal with that or justify myself, but I wanted to put my side across and I didn't argue or get personal, I just stood my ground and fought the corner for others. What they said about depression was harmful and needed a reply!
I am worried whether it isn't getting viewed or getting shared enough. I want strangers to see it and I want it to reach people and do some good or give someone some hope out there. But then I have received thank you private messages from people telling me how much the blog has helped and my page views keep going up so that is why I'll continue to blog. Most importantly I enjoy doing it and it helps me too.
About the Author
Sadness, depression, anger, feeling out of place, knowing something was wrong with me; these are among my first memories. I saw my first therapist at the age of seven, shortly after my parents split up for the first time. I was experiencing shortness of breath and coughing fits so extreme I would vomit. The inhaler didn’t help me breathe and the doctors wanted to put me on tranquilizers. Eventually, I recovered from the physical ailments, but the emotional ailments stuck with me.
It wasn’t until my teenage years that I started seeing a therapist regularly. I hated her. She didn’t listen to me. She asked me questions she thought would give her the information she needed. There was no silence inside those sessions, no room for me to find my words. I used to write letters to my therapist that I never gave her. They were full of words I couldn’t bring myself to say.
When I was fifteen, I started hurting myself and attempted suicide for the first time. My therapist suggested to my parents that I see a psychiatrist. But the psychiatrist only asked me questions in front of my mother. When she left the room, he asked me if there was anything I wanted to say, but I still couldn’t find the words to tell the truth. No one knew I had tried to kill myself. It was a dirty secret that I was terrified to admit. I thought my parents would be angry.
At sixteen, my diagnosis was depression. At seventeen, it was depression and anxiety. At eighteen, I went off to college and attempted suicide for the second time. The university psychiatrist got me into regular counseling. I was diagnosed with major depression and given my first anti-depressant, which had no effect.
At nineteen, I moved across the country for a geographic cure and finally found a counselor that listened to me, but still didn’t get the right diagnosis. I was given anti-depressant after anti-depressant, each of which gave me new side effects, but no symptom relief. A part of me thought that the anti-depressant’s not working meant that there wasn’t actually anything wrong with me, that I was just a lazy, weak, and useless person.
After graduating from college at the age of 23, I finally found a psychiatrist who put the pieces together. He asked detailed questions and got a thorough history. He drew a physical timeline of my moods that made the bipolar pattern emerge. He was the first doctor to give me a useful diagnosis that made sense. Rapid Cycling Depressive Bipolar Disorder II. Sixty-nine percent of people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed, and one-third of these don’t get the correct diagnosis for more than ten years. Anti-depressants can be incredibly dangerous to people suffering from bipolar disorder, exacerbating symptoms and generally making people feel worse or having no effect at all.
But because we don’t talk about mental illness, it is impossible for people to know if they are getting correct diagnoses or medications. From my first diagnosis, to the correct diagnosis it was almost ten years. And once I received that diagnosis, it took another five years to find a medication that actually made a difference. Three hospital stays, two more suicide attempts, and fifteen years of avoidable suffering.
The moment I was properly diagnosed, changed my life. It was the moment that I realized I wasn’t a lost cause. There was a reason anti-depressants didn’t work for me. I wasn’t just a lazy, useless person. There was an illness that explained my suicide attempts, self-harming behavior, depression, and anxiety.
Getting the proper diagnosis made a world of difference. I am not a failure. I have a chronic illness that can be treated.
Steps to take if you need help:
Mental illness does not have to be a death sentence. You are not a failure. You are a strong, resilient person and if you have a mental illness, you have a chronic illness that can be treated.
About the Author
Edited by Maureen Danielle G
From as far back as I can remember I have always had my nose buried in a book.
Reading for me has been a comfort, especially during stressful and sorrowful times and a shared hobby through which I’ve connected with some of my closest friends.
Amongst those who know me, my bedroom is the library, because I’m constantly loaning and recommending different books to my friends.
Any book lover can attest to this fact: There are some stories that you might read at just the right time, or that you might be able to relate to so closely, that they stay with you long after you have turned the final page.
The beauty of novels, to me, is that they can be about literally anything, and diving into the lives of characters who deal with trials and triumphs, just like all of us is a reminder that we are never alone in our pain, no matter what that pain looks like. Books have certainly served that purpose for me, and I thought I’d share a few of my favorite paper and ink friend, in the hope that they might do the same for you.
So these are five of my most beloved books, which really resonated with me and have helped me through a hard time. What are some of the books that you have read that may have stayed with you well after you put them down?
Written by David James
Edited by Maureen Danielle G
“I spoke so much about being a manic-depressive. I want to bring everyone back to my earliest memories of this companion of mine. Some people call this companion I have an ailment, or worse a terrible nightmare from which some people cannot awaken. I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of. I have nothing that should garner a stigma.” Richard Dreyfuss, Academy Award Winning Actor
A while back, my Twitter friend Linda Diaz of Lauryn's Law tagged me in a post for an article from Washington Post about Rachel Griffin. Rachel is a singer/songwriter in New York, as well as a grad student at NYU. Rachel suffers from Mental Illness, and she recently put a call to action on Twitter with the hashtag #iamnotashamed, so that people can openly disclose their mental illness. The comments and Tweets were overwhelmingly positive.
For many of you reading this, you may be thinking, "How can she do anything if she has mental illness?" or "Why would she admit to this?" The answer is easy. By creating awareness, Rachael is creating understanding.
There is so much stigma and stereotype surrounding mental illness around the world, and many people opt to dwell on that as opposed to the reality. They picture people with mental illness as extras from One Few Over the Cuckoo's Nest, walking around institutions in bathrobes, drooling on themselves; or as maniacal characters such as the Joker from The Dark Knight; or the depressed, black clad Emo such The Cure's Robert Smith . Sufferers of mental illness are all of the above and none of the above.
Yes, there are the tragedies of famous people like Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger and Robin Williams who struggled with mental illness. All were brilliantly creative people who battled their demons, but in the end, lost. These are the stories that we are all familiar with because of their fame and tragic end. But there are people who have triumphed as well. Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, John Nash of A Beautiful Mind fame, Charles Dickens, former Today host Jane Pauley, 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace, NFL Hall of Famer Charles Haley, Princess Diana, and Star Wars’ star Carrie Fisher. That is not to say their lives were not without incident, but they were able to thrive.
I admire these people as well as feel their pain. I too suffer from clinical depression, and have for many years. When I was young, I knew there was something different about me. I would go through long spells where I felt off, knowing that something was wrong, but not knowing what. I would sit in class and think that I was the only one that felt that way. As I got older, I would begin to feel desperate, to fear the future, to worry about little things, to blow things out of proportion, to lose sleep over things I had no control of, to feel lonely and sad, and to feel so down, it seemed that there was no way up. I took comfort in beer, and would drink enough to help me calm down and sleep. I would often drink to excess with my friends on weekends. I thought it was part of having a good time, of being in my 20's and fitting in, I was smart enough to know alcohol was a depressant, but I didn't care. Looking back I realize it was because I felt so low that I would use it as an excuse to numb myself to the perceived reality around me.
In my 30's, as my first marriage was falling apart, in large part due to my self-destructive behavior, I finally reached out for help. I spoke to my doctor and was prescribed for Zoloft. After a while, it began to work. The feelings of despair began to dissipate, and the anxiety that had helped provoke my fears was lessened. For the first time in years, I felt somewhat normal, and began to work on putting my marriage back together. Unfortunately, I made the mistake that many do; I declared myself cured and stopped taking my medication. Things quickly fell apart again, and because of that, so did my marriage. I was soon divorced, living in a small apartment and seeing my son Peyton every other weekend. I went back to not only beer, but vodka as well. I would come home and mix a strong drink to help me calm my nerves, relax, and blot out my feelings so as to get to sleep.
I never considered myself an alcoholic, I never turned to the "hair of the dog" in the morning, never missed work or even drank at work, but I could see myself becoming overly dependent on it. My lowest point came after a minor outpatient procedure. The procedure was on a Friday morning, and I spent the afternoon and evening in an anesthesia induced haze. The next morning, as the last of the anesthesia wore off, and my mind raced, I felt the most incredible psychological pain imaginable. I wept, cried and at my lowest thought about how easy it would be to stop the pain by taking all of the Ambien in my medicine cabinet. Then I remembered my son, my recently widowed father, and other family members, and knew I couldn't. I made an appointment that Monday and renewed my prescription for Zoloft. This time, it didn't work like before, and my doctor changed me to Cymbalta which did the job. I knew then that this time that the depression was not temporary, but my permanent companion. Once I had my mind back in order, I got my life in order. I soon met the love of my life, Lisa, who became my wife. We had a beautiful daughter, Emmalee, bought a new house, and all seemed well, as I was living the American Dream.
Well, all this came crashing down on October 8, 2014, when I received the call that Peyton, just 13, had hung himself; he later passed away five days later on the 13th. This could have plunged me into a darkness from which there would be no return, but I was determined that I would survive. I went and had my meds adjusted, got into counseling and support, and made a conscious decision not to let myself find comfort or escape in anything; be it food or alcohol. Apart from a slip on the first New Year's Eve without Peyton, I have been well, and continue to do so.
Part of my recovery meant preserving Peyton's memory and helping others. Thus I began the #Products4Peyton and got deeply involved with the #PeytonHeartProject. Both allow me to open talk about Peyton's death, suicide awareness and prevention and advocate for mental illness.
Every day is a challenge. The fog has lifted from Peyton's death, and I never know what will trigger the tears, sadness, or anxiety. I take my medication, talk openly about my struggles and try to help others to also open up and seek help. My hope is that one day, the stigma of mental illness will be lifted, and the people suffering will be treated with the same dignity and respect that other illnesses receive. Until then, I will continue to tell my story and proudly proclaim "I am not ashamed of my mental illness!"
Author's Note: The first time I posted on Twitter, I received a tweet from someone under the handle of @jailina_ telling me that because medical science hadn't conclusively proven mental illness, then there really wasn't anything wrong with me, and that it was all in my head. If you deal with mental illness, and someone tells you this, ignore them. Studies of the human brain are still going on, yet the human mind is still a mystery. Stay strong, ignore the naysayers and tell them #Iamnotashamed.
David James is a 50 year old teacher and coach from Conroe, Texas, and also a mental illness advocate. He founded #Products4Peyton and is involved with the #PeytonHeartProject, following his son’s death.
David has also lobbied in Texas for the passage of HB 2186 which requires all school districts in Texas to provide mandatory suicide awareness and prevention training for all staff members. It was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott in June of 2015.
Article by Christy Zigweid
I have always been an artsy sort of person. When I was in elementary school I loved art and music class. I played the bells when I was a fifth grader (my one and only time playing in a band -- ironic I married a band director). I sang in the choir throughout middle school and high school. I learned how to play the piano (my favorite instrument). I am a scrapbooker and make homemade cards. There is not one thing I do each day that doesn't involve music or art on some level.
Why Music Matters for Healing
1. Music can help calm and soothe
I would venture to say many people have a song or type of music which calms them down. For me, it's spa/instrumental music. For my husband, it's obnoxious heavy metal music. I recently found an app called "Relax Melodies" (iTunes) (Android) which provides different music and sounds you can mix together to form your own unique sounds. I use these when I fly (I have horrible flying anxiety) and when I just want something soothing. You can also set the volume of each sound to your liking. My son uses this app every night when he goes to bed. Most nights I have it on to stop my mind from racing.
2. Music can motivate you
How many times have you been browsing the music section and seen compilations of music for working out? Or know people who have a set playlist they use when working or doing homework? How about someone who listens to a certain song before they get out of bed to help them start the day? I listen to music when I'm cleaning house, driving in the car, and writing, just to name a few. And I listen to music when I'm in the middle of a depressive episode. No matter the type of music, it can help us to be productive as well as calm us down.
3. Music can pull you out of a tough spot
We all have bad days. We all have times when we'd like to crawl into a hole and never come out. For me, lyrics are a huge factor in whether music helps me through the tough times. I wrote an article for This is My Brave, talking about The Tenors, and how their music helps me through rough spots. Sometimes it makes me cry. Other times it makes me angry enough to take action. My husband will be the first to tell you my playlist is long and 99.9% of the songs have some kind of personal connection for me.
4. You don't have to be musical to enjoy music
Not everyone is talented in playing an instrument or singing. But you do have the ability to listen to music. A great clip from Mr. Holland's Opus shows how music can even reach those who cannot hear. Music is our international language.
How do you use music for healing?
About the Author
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder suffered by half a million people every winter in the United States. It typically flares up between September and April, peaking in December, January, and February. Symptoms include: extreme mood changes, anxiety, and inability to deal with stress, depression, loss of self-esteem, lethargy, overeating and social withdrawal.
Diagnosis is typically made after three consecutive winters with these symptoms, followed by total remission in the spring and summer months. A milder version of the disorder is known as the “Winter Blues.” If you think you or a loved one may be suffering from either of these conditions, here are six tips to get you through the winter months:
Image via Pixabay by unsplash
1. Consult a doctor. SAD symptoms can actually be confused with other medical conditions such as hypothyroidism and certain viral infections. Always consult a medical professional for a proper diagnosis to ensure the correct and best treatment for yourself. If you suspect a loved one is experiencing SAD symptoms, offer to accompany them to the doctor or help make the appointment. When you’re feeling down, taking that first step toward action can be the most difficult. Knowing someone is in your corner and willing to help makes a big difference.
2. With the support of your medical professional, consider light therapy. Light therapy mimics outdoor light and aims to cause a biochemical change in your brain to improve mood. Patients sit with eyes open in front of a light box containing fluorescent bulbs, which emit a different kind and intensity of light than those commonly found in households. Sufferers of SAD produce an excess of melatonin during the low-light months of fall and winter, which can cause debilitating depression symptoms. Exposure to bright light can suppress this over-production and help regulate one’s internal clock, reducing negative symptoms. Daily treatment of light therapy has shown improvement in 80% of participants. Bear in mind that there are mild symptoms of light therapy including: eyestrain, fatigue, irritability, nausea, headache, and insomnia. Work with your doctor to reduce these issues by moving farther from the light box, changing the time of day you employ light therapy, and reducing treatment time.
3. Eat healthy and get plenty of exercise. This is good advice year-round, but especially during the colder months when it’s easy to get comfortable cozying up inside with comfort food. Fight the urge to load up on carbs. They may give you an initial burst of energy but they can leave you feeling tired. Instead, stick to healthy options like veggies, fruits, and lean meats. Couple healthy eating with regular aerobic exercise to elevate your heart rate, even if it’s just a brisk walk around the block. When your body feels good, your mind often follows!
4. Stay social and involved as the winter months approach. Plan enjoyable social activities throughout the winter season. Brave the cold and go on group outings with friends to see movies, plays, and concerts, or throw a winter-themed costume party at your place. Make it a point to get some social interaction all winter — not just on the holidays! And if you notice a loved one is isolating themselves, don’t ignore them. Offer to make them a healthy dinner one evening or suggest a walk in a local park. People with SAD may need help from others when it comes to staying social.
5. Consider a dawn simulator alarm clock. Though it hasn’t been studied with SAD as much as light therapy, waking up with a dawn simulator may also ease your symptoms. This kind of device gradually increases the amount of light in your bedroom in the morning to imitate the rising sun and wake you up in a more natural way. It can help reset your circadian rhythm and improve your mood, and is a safer option for those suffering from both SAD and bipolar disorder.
6. Nip seasonal affective disorder in the bud. If you’ve been officially diagnosed, prepare yourself before it hits. Begin using a light box at the beginning of the fall, even if you aren’t yet feeling any symptoms. Do your best to spend time outdoors every day, regardless of the season. Even if it’s cloudy, the effects of sunlight are still available and beneficial. Finally, consider speaking to a mental health professional specializing in cognitive therapy, as this can be another effective treatment for SAD.
Always consult a medical professional before beginning treatment for seasonal affective disorder. With the right diet and exercise, social interaction and light therapy, you can make your SAD a thing of the past.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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