​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 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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13 Reasons…

As I lie on my handmaid blanket, watching the show “13 Reasons Why” for the second time through, I feel perplexed and at a loss for words. But that’s to be expected, isn’t it? It’s never easy to talk about suicide, slut-shaming, bullying, or any mental health issues — but it is necessary. My guess is that this is the one reason why there are multitudes of articles about the show. This recent Netflix original, based off the book released in 2007, has sparked more conversation about mental illness than I’ve seen in my 24 years on this planet. I doubt even the producers expected such backlash.

Let’s start off with discussing the positives, because I am a “good news first” type of girl. I was thrilled when I heard about the show, primarily because I have dealt with many of the issues it brings up but have rarely heard such topics discussed. I was slut-shamed after a negative sexual encounter; I have lived with depression since the age of thirteen, and I can recall events and people who worsened it from time to time; I loved a dear friend who committed suicide. I’ve asked “why?” more times than I can count, and sadly, I’m often met with silence. These tragic components exist in many people’s lives, and while we can’t change that, we can change how we respond to it. Unfortunately, most people choose not to respond at all.

Say what you will about “13 Reasons Why,” but the show accomplished one major success: it got people talking. As you watch Hannah Baker experience bullying and watch her slow but steady breakdown, you can’t help but think of people in your life who may be spiraling downwards into the same pit. And if you are like most, you conclude that you don’t know a damn thing about how to help, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The first step is recognizing that these are real issues which need to be addressed, and the next is learning how to address them. The show ends when Clay seeks out a classmate, Skye, who has clearly struggled with depression and possible suicidal ideation. At this point, Clay is able to recognize these signs and has made a definitive choice to do all he can to avoid the next tragedy.

Hannah’s suicide scene is a hard one to watch — the kind of scene I needed my husband’s hands over my eyes for. The producers steered away from the book for her suicide, and instead of pills, Hannah took razor blades to her wrists. You don’t need to be a mental health professional to know that this kind of thing is hard to watch. It’s terrifying…but what if that was the point? While most people are aware of mental illnesses and suicides, they don’t dwell on them and therefore, they don’t do much to improve them. The show wouldn’t have been as powerful if Hannah’s mother walked in to find her daughter seemingly asleep in her bed, whereas it was incredibly powerful and touching to watch Mrs. Baker fall to her knees next to Hannah’s lifeless body in the bloodied bathtub. It wasn’t supposed to be pretty or easy. I like to view it as a wake-up call to society that suicide is a prominent issue which we must come together on, and as they say, seeing is believing. The scene was meant to make you uncomfortable and to tug at your heartstrings, and hopefully, to make you passionate about suicide prevention.

Finally, the show brings up a point which is important but difficult to absorb: small things cause big impact. An innocent but provocative-looking picture of Hannah was sent throughout the school, and not long after, a list was sent around discussing her “assets.” She then dealt with unwelcome grabbing, staring, judging, and assuming which she neither deserved nor asked for. Small comments were made to Hannah while her mind was already weakened, and she wasn’t able to brush them off. She talks about how important anonymous complimentary notes are, how they kept her head above water for a while — and then talks about how hard it was when they stopped appearing. She directly addresses 13 people who either purposefully or unintentionally hurt her, in both small and big ways, when she was already hurting. The fact of the matter is that sometimes, simple gestures can cause a lot of harm. Some of us are so broken that a hairline fracture is what breaks us entirely and turns us to dust. I realize that many people don’t like to accept this because it means they’re held accountable for their actions, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Now, I think I speak for many in saying that the producers of this show made some major mistakes, the worst being (in my opinion) the lack of conversation about mental health. While I can sympathize with Hannah in saying that others contributed to her struggles, those people did not cause her suicide or her depression and hopelessness which led to it. According to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric illness at the time of their death. Hannah Baker’s feelings of hopelessness, her likely PTSD from her rape, and her undiagnosed depression and suicidal ideation led to her death — not people’s mistakes. I wish the show would have addressed these issues, recognizing and validating mental illness for what it is, instead of making Hannah’s suicide an extreme form of revenge. The show makes an important point in saying that small comments and incidents can worsen a person’s mental stability, but it inaccurately portrays an idea that these actions cause suicide. You cannot cause another person to struggle with mental illness any more than you can cause another person to have the flu.

Coming from someone who has struggled for over ten years with mental illness, including depression and suicidal ideation, the best way to address it is by getting support. I used to think that was an easy out for parents and teachers, but being an adult who sought out professional help, I now know that it’s true. The show barely touches on this, aside from Hannah’s attempt to talk to her counselor (which turned negative in a heartbeat). I would’ve loved to see Hannah call the nearest counseling center, a real-world resource which is available to all those who are suffering. Even if Hannah didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, the show should’ve wrapped up a few episodes with a reminder that there is always, always, ALWAYS help out there. When you collapse on your living room floor after an exhausting day, when you cry yourself to sleep at night, when every little task feels like another mountain to move, you do have somewhere to turn. It isn’t easy, especially for young people, but I beg you: call the suicide hotline, call a therapist, send a text for help to a mobile app like Talk Space, or scroll through your contacts and get ahold of the person who best encourages you. It’s easy and somehow appealing to accept that you are alone and don’t need to let anyone in your bubble, but that’s a lie; fighting against mental illness is an impossible battle without your allies. Allies are around every corner with weapons to battle your fiercest enemies, even those who live in your mind — all you have to do is look.

In conclusion, I feel it’s important to acknowledge that some people can’t, don’t want to, or shouldn’t watch “13 Reasons Why,” and that is perfectly fine. If you feel that it may be triggering, difficult, or otherwise offensive to you, by all means, avoid watching these thirteen episodes — but please don’t stop there. There are countless ways to educate yourself on suicide prevention, support the cause, and start the conversation. If we all work together to end the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health, there will be a day when people who feel like Hannah Baker did will know where to turn. We owe it to our loved ones, our children, and to all future generations.

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