​At this exact moment, I am sitting around a beautiful fire, at a gorgeous campground on the river and surrounded by truly phenomenal people, yet I feel absolutely, utterly alone. How can that even be possible? As I run through what I want to write down in my head, I hear echoes of the conversations around me, passionate and meaningful conversations, many that I would benefit greatly from, yet they feel as if they are hundreds of miles away. Every second I debate putting down my notebook and joining in. Yet the only motion I can make is the sweeping motion of the pen across the page as these words flow out of me like a dam bursting due to too much pressure. The strongest concept of addiction that I have come to understand, is how we understand how irrational and how strange our thoughts and actions are, yet we cannot change them. The demon within is in the driver’s seat and we need to change our thought process. Now that I have been through outpatient programs, anonymous programs, and individual therapy, I have really had the opportunity to realize this is something that I have struggled with this disease far longer than I had realized. This is an exert from a poem I wrote on February 10th, 2013, my senior year:
“When asked what my biggest fear is, I respond as follows,
It is not death nor drowning, it is who will not be there tomorrow,
As I write in my lonesome people ask if I’m ok,
But will they ask me that in six months when I’m six hours away?
Or will I just be fading clips of memories in their head?
These are the fears that keep me up at night thinking in my bed,
And as I sit here and write this on my phone,
I can’t help to wonder, who else feels alone?”
​This is one of my favorite pieces I have ever written because I wrote it for me, and it was real and it was raw. I feel isolation is one of the most common tells of depression or addiction, something that all sufferers struggle with. It is a horrible feeling to feel absolutely alone in a room full of people. I do not understand why it happens, and in time it has gotten better, and I fully believe it will only continue to improve; it just is horrible to experience in the moment. The most important skill to have is to be self-aware and able to recognize when you are experiencing these feelings. When you are, call a friend that you have not talked to in a while, your grandma, your grandpa, mother, father, somebody to just have a conversation with. Nothing good comes from isolating and dwelling on your thoughts alone; and you are not alone. -Thoughts of Many; Voice of One

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What It Feels Like to Have a Mental Illness

One of the hardest things to do is for me to try to articulate what it feels like to have mental health issues, what it feels like to not be able to ‘just get over it,’ why I am unable to ‘look at everything [I] have,’ and why I simply cannot give you a reason as to, ‘how can [I] have all of these possessions and all of these opportunities, and still say that [I] am unhappy.’ It has taken eight years for me to develop some sort of a way, one that still does not come close to accurately portraying, what this crippling disease of mental illness does to a mind, but it is vitally important for us who suffer to attempt to explain it in any way that we possibly can, in order for the world to begin to understand it. People fear the unknown and I feel that is the driving force preventing mental health from being a dinner table conversation. The fear manifests through so many thought processes that causes us to lock down whether it is through avoidance, denial, and even disbelief. It is heart-wrenching to hear the amount of people who say that they ‘do not believe in mental health.’ That is why I believe it is crucial to give every last breath, to fight until we are on the brink of collapsing, to use our voice until we can no longer speak, use our words until the last piece of paper is covered with ink, and type until we’ve worn out the last keyboard on earth, to attempt to explain what this disease feels like, so that people no longer fear mental health issues because it is ‘unknown,’ and I will make certain that I fight until my dying day, to make that happen.

The best way that I have found to exemplify what this disease is, is to envision that you have a twin, except rather than your twin being a separate, physical and visible entity, your twin lives within you. Opposed to being two normal individuals, I incorporate the ‘angel on one shoulder, demon on the other’ metaphor. Instead of having each on a different shoulder, you ARE the angel, and your twin living within you is the demon. Every second of the day, every single thought that you have, is challenged by that demon. Every compliment given, every goal and ambition you have, is negated and neglected because that demon inside your head tells you, “they don’t mean it, they’re just being nice, just imagine if they really knew you, they wouldn’t be complimenting you then,” or, “it’s cute that you think you can achieve that, but let’s face reality, you’re nothing, you don’t have the talent to do that, you’re a fraud, you probably don’t even care about that.” It. Is. Dreadful. It truly drains every last piece of your soul until you fall to the floor, surrendering yourself to the evil twin, because you simply cannot take it anymore. Now he knows he got to you, so he hops into the driver seat and treats your brain like a horse as if it were connected to a buggy back in the 1800’s, snapping his whips whenever you start to slow down or resist. At this point you are not you anymore, another entity is in full control and driving every move you make, and every thought you have. He then drives you into self-destructive behavior and self-medication until you simply, break.

It fascinates, yet horrifies me, that our mind can truly divide into two separate entities at war with one another, as our bruised, bloody and beaten body remains the battle ground. That is, until we start caring for our mind and educating ourselves on mental illness and what it all entails and come to an understanding that we are not crazy, and certainly not alone, in having these thoughts. However, the only way to educate is to have a base understanding that it even is a concept. You simply cannot educate yourself on something you have never been presented with. That is why I fight so passionately to breakdown the stigma and to start the conversation. The more talked about, the more exposure it has. The more willingness to share our experiences and have those conversations, the drastically deeper it gets, which provides a far greater understanding of this disease.
To our family and friends, I truly cannot fathom, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, the thought, and fear, of asking your child or friend if they are suffering. If I were to give any sort of advice, simply ask how they are doing, express the openness to have those tough conversations, and maybe share times of personal experience of feeling lost or alone. It may be the hardest conversation you will ever have, but the benefits will far outweigh the struggle.
-Thoughts of Many; Voice of One

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The first time I ever saw a counselor was when I was seven. It was court mandated due to my parents’ nasty divorce. I remember drawing pictures of how I depicted my ever-changing family and playing “Trouble” with the therapist. My brother and I went on to see many counselors and psychiatrists shortly after their divorce. But my seven-year-old self thought it was stupid and silly to talk to a stranger about the private things going on within my family. It would be years before I’d see one again.

Fast forward to 17. My brother had just died from cancer and everything was out of control. My parents thought counseling might make things easier and I started seeing a counselor who was probably more “aggressive” than what I needed. He was in his late thirties with a scruffy beard and big belly. He swore quite a bit and didn’t seem to have the same religious views that I did.
I believe it’s key when finding the right counselor to “shop around.” It’s like a shoe. It needs to be the right fit for you. If it’s not, it’s going to feel uncomfortable and awkward. And unfortunately, my second go around with counseling was also the “wrong fit.”

All throughout high school and college I continued to struggle with anxiety, depression, self-hatred, body image issues, and suicidal thoughts. However I didn’t seek help. Not from counseling, or anything else for that matter.

Soon after I got married at age 20, I fell into my career – recruiting. Within the two and a half years I worked as a recruiter, the environment became toxic, one in which I was miserable every day and walked on eggshells. Yet, I realized that it was more than just my surroundings making me anxious; it was something coming from inside my brain. Something was off. Something was wrong. I was at a loss. So I made an appointment with my family doctor and got a referral to see a counselor.

Now, let me be honest with you, I had VERY low expectations going into my first appointment. Counseling had never worked in the past, and now my issues and problems seemed bigger than ever. How was pouring my heart out to a complete stranger (who was probably just going to judge me) going to help?!?

Somehow, miraculously, the appointment went a million times better than I could have imagined. This time the counselor was a woman in her early thirties, married with a few kids, gentle, compassionate, and easy to talk to. Right away, we had an awesome rapport.

I continued to see her for almost a year. We worked through my every day anxiety, my relationship issues, my depression and body image issues. We talked through my brother’s death, events with a close family member, and the loss of one of my best friends. Things were getting better. I was on medication that was helping, I got a new job, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I was happy again.

So I stopped seeing her.

The next spring An (anxiety) started to creep back into my life. She had never left, but was always hiding in the dark. Her voice had gotten quieter with counseling and medication. But now I was off my medicine and not seeking help. An got louder, more intense, and more consistent with her manipulations and lies.

Something needed to change. So I scheduled another appointment with my former counselor. Over the summer we started to work through things again. An still pushes me down every day. She’s loud. She’s needy. She’s controlling. And some months are worse than others. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far in life it’s that recovery is a process. Just because things are getting better doesn’t mean that you still shouldn’t be proactive in your fight against mental illness. In fact, you need to be.

Below are some reasons I’ve heard why people (including myself) don’t want to go to counseling. If you can relate to one or two, I hope my perspective convinces you otherwise.

1. I don’t have the money – there are so many agencies that are either free for low income families or offer a payment plan. These organizations understand your situation and are willing to work with you. There are also grants you can receive to help with the costs.
2. I don’t have the time – really? How much time do you spend on Facebook? Watching TV? Overworking? Exactly. Plus, mental health NEEDS to come first. If your foot was broken you wouldn’t wait months to go to the doctor to get medication and crutches. It would be a priority, just like your mental health needs to be a priority.
3. Why should I talk to a stranger about what’s going on in my personal life – first off, these people are trained professionals. They went to school to learn about your illness or whatever you’re struggling with in order to help you work through it. Also, it’s probably good to get an outsider’s perspective. Your best friend and your mom can only do so much.
4. I’m scared to work through my issues – you’re right. It is scary. At least at first. You’re probably going to open up a lot of scars and they may bleed a little again. But you WILL work through it. It will get easier, I promise. Counseling isn’t going to fix your “problem” overnight. It’s a process. But you can do it. I know you can.

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The Stigma

It saddens me that we as individuals still live in a world dominated by judgement, labeling and stigma. I challenge those who question our actions of remaining silent, to ask themselves what their opinion would be if the neighbor boy started an outpatient program for his anxiety or depression. What their opinion would be if a coworker came in and shared that they knew someone who had to bring their child to an outpatient program because they found them with an empty bottle of pills. Would they say something along the lines of, ‘I always knew there was something off about that kid’, or, ‘I cannot even imagine having a crazy kid’ what about my favorite, and the one I believe has truly cemented this stigma towards mental health, ‘Gosh, where were their parents? Why were they not aware of what was going on?’. Why is it, that most parents, have no issue passing judgement on children trying to seek help, or on the parents of children seeking help? If you are at fault for this, please understand that I do not, and am not blaming you. This was how you were raised to believe, that mental health should be pushed under the rug, maybe even that you do not believe in an actual condition causing these symptoms. However, please understand that every time you tell your kid that you heard about the crazy neighbor boy who is ‘not right in the head’, that adds another brick in the wall separating wanting to talk to you, and fearing what you will think of them. Each time you say those words, it is a sharp stab in our stomach, like an angry witch stabbing their voodoo doll over, and over, and over. We learn that to have this disease, this condition, we are crazy, or ‘just sad’ or attention seeking. This is the reason we retreat to our room the second we place our dishes in the sink after dinner. Why we never wish to talk more than the common ‘how was your day’, ‘good how about you?’, ‘mine was good’ conversation. In our heads, we are looking into the eyes of someone who says they love us unconditionally, but has called us a crazy person, a screw up, all through their opinions on others. This is the reason why we do not speak up, this is why we are forced to sit up at night and ball our eyes out wishing we were anywhere but here. This is why, individuals like myself, were so hesitant on reaching out for help. I mentioned this briefly earlier, but the number one cause for the ‘stigma’ is parents blaming other parents for causing their child’s mental health. How do they have the audacity to criticize and analyze their parenting from the comfort of their home? Between two brick walls, and three miles down the road. I do not wish to spend much time on this, for I will address it in a later blog, but children are horrifically brutal to one another. The use of terms like ‘crazy’ and ‘mental’ are used in such a derogatory way, that it drastically leaves any individual struggling with mental illness, pushing these feelings further and further down. We need to break down this stigma. We need to further education at younger ages. Start educating kids on the idea of mental health starting in elementary school. However, the number one change that needs to be made, is that we need to reshape the family communication dynamic, we need to make the conversation of mental health a dinner table conversation.

Who am I? My intention is to be a regular blogger and figured I should semi introduce myself. Unfortunately, due to certain family situations, I cannot reveal my name at this time. However, I believe there is benefit in writing anonymously and it can further my mission to end the stigma. Because you do not know my name, I am both everyone, and I am no one. I may be your neighbor, who never is seen outside and often nicknamed Boo Radley throughout the neighborhood, who actually suffers greatly from social anxiety and has led to me isolating in my home due to my depression. I may be the lady in your office who keeps to myself and stares blankly while I work, leading you and a group of coworkers to consistently say I have a ‘resting b**ch face’ and wonder what my problem is and why I am not welcoming. Well that problem and that look on my face is pure terror as I am paralyzed due to an enormous fear of the future and me currently experiencing a panic attack. Or I might be your boss who you believe is acting like a jerk because I am ‘power hungry’ when in actuality, I am constantly angry because I wake up every morning in a beautiful home, with a beautiful wife, and plenty of money in my bank account, but all I think about is how badly I want to leave this life, and every night when my wife goes to bed, I take a razor to my skin because it is the only time I feel, feel anything at all, and have no idea why because I was never taught what mental health was. Or, just maybe, I am your child. Your child who ‘listens to music too loud’ and am ‘going through a rebel phase because of the movies I watch’. When, in reality, I simply have no idea who I am, feel so incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin, and fall asleep every night with swollen eyes and wet pillows. That music is the only thing keeping me here, allowing me to drag every ounce of my body out of bed every morning only to expose myself to constant societal pressures throughout the entire day.

We never know what an individual is going through. At any moment, of any day, we must interact with individuals with the awareness that we have no clue what that person is going through, and it may be much deeper than what we think. I could be everyone, I could be no one. I am one of the 43.8 million adults who experience mental illness in a given year. I could be one of the 17.52 million adults who sought treatment for their mental health. Or, I could be one of the 26.28 million adults who were petrified of judgement and the stigma to seek help. Just remember, everyone has a story, and it is likely that every single day, you will interact with a man or a woman who experiences mental illness.

-Thoughts of Many; Voice of One

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The hard way

I’ve been taking my time to figure things out
But lately it feels like I’m going out of my mind
I feel like this life isn’t mine
I’m watching it unfold in third person and as much as I want to slow down I just can’t. I feel stuck, I feel lost, i feel alone.
More alone than i have ever felt.
No one knows because I put on a facade.
I know I’m not alone but it feels like I don’t belong
Everything feels so wrong
And it’s like everyone wants me gone
I want to reach out to my friends for help
But they are never around anymore,
Im not around anymore.
I keep wondering why everyone is distant
I’m still the same person why doesn’t anybody listen
I wish someone could just explain to me
What happen to the way we always said we be
Cause right now I don’t know why I pushed through the pain that I got through
I’m losing hope
I need a good reason not.
There is these voices going on inside my head and they claim I’m going at it the hard way.

I tell myself that everything is fine, a big lie but then I get lost in my thoughts
I can’t keep my mind filled with a thousand things to distract me from my head.
My head is a bad neighbor that I shouldn’t be traveling alone.
There is another _________ trying to to take this _______ down. But at the end of the day I know I can only make myself happy but I always bring myself down.
Everywhere I look I start to see
Everything what people think of me
It looks like I was never welcome
If It is true or not I won’t know
I guess the voices in my head are right
I do go at things the hard way

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