MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESSYesterday marked the last day of May and with it the final day of Mental Health Awareness month. And while I’m glad there’s a month for it, the reality is that folks struggling with, or affected by mental health issues, or mental illness, or heck, just the average day-to-day battle keep sane in today’s climate doesn’t just go away at the end of May.

One in five Americans is affected by a mental illness. That means at least 65 million people in the U.S. alone.

Mental Health consciousness might just be as simple as understanding that we need to take better care of ourselves, our stress levels, and our minds. But for some of us, it might mean that we’re working to break down the stigmas around a mental health issue we, or a loved one struggle with. Or there are some of us are just trying to survive.

I personally struggle with depression. For me it’s a malignant, heavy cloud equipped with tendrils that squirm their way into nearly every thought and effort. Sometimes it’s barely there, like a tiny, weak devil breathlessly whispering in my ear. I can easily conquer it. Sometimes it feels like it’s completely gone for good. Other times, the simple act of living hurts. My depression is categorized as mild to moderate.

Over the years, it’s given me a lot more empathy for others, but I still the rare occasion where I see someone struggling and think to myself how maybe they just need to get their shit together. This is bullshit, judgmental thinking (that I sometimes also apply to myself), and it isn’t what I really believe, it’s conditioning. And stigma.

And that’s what we’re looking to conquer.

But this post isn’t about me. It’s about mental health–which in my opinion should just be called HEALTH. And mental illnesses should be treated just as consciously as broken arms, or cancer, or diabetes.

The thing is, symptoms are different for each one of us. Like a fucked-up, tailor-made gift to attack our minds in just the right way.

To make matters worse a treatment that worked for Jane might be worthless to Joan. And in our society, a lot of times Joan will get judged for that. Like she’s just irrefutably flawed, or worse–faking it.

I could go on and on, but instead I’ve collected some amazing writing on the facets of mental health and illness, organized by subject.

If you struggle, I hope these readings bring you hope, and confirmation that you’re not alone. If you don’t personally struggle with a mental illness or maintaining your mental health, I hope you’ll read some of these anyway, and wrap your own mind around the reality of others, and finally help us obliterate the stigma so we can all get the support and help we need.

Mental illness not a farce, or a situation where people just need to buck up and handle their business. The struggle is real. And the more we acknowledge that, the better we can help those of us who need it.

Obviously, this post isn’t meant to be the end-all-be-all, so please share other articles or resources that you’ve found. I received so many awesome suggestions for this post (and so many I hated to leave out) that I think I’ll have to do another post soon!

We’re in this together. Let’s help each other rise.

Here we go…

The Non-Simplicity of Mental Illness

by Laura Dattaro

When I sat in that chair as a terrified teenager, it meant everything to have someone with a degree legitimize my problem, as though my pain weren’t real until a professional deemed it so.  As I slogged through treatment throughout my early 20s, receiving a more severe diagnosis felt like, if not quite a badge of honor, at least a recognition of time served. (“Everyone’s depressed,” I happily told one therapist after receiving a Bipolar II diagnosis, feeling I’d at last been marked a true sufferer.)  Read on…

 

How Lady Gaga Helped Me Confront My Transgenerational Mental Health Trauma

by Brandi Neal

I’m sitting on the floor with my back against the bed and my head between my knees on the verge of a full-blown panic attack. In a few minutes a car will pick me up to take me to the Lady Gaga concert at the Forum in Los Angeles, and I don’t want to go. I can’t stop shaking. I pick up my phone several times to cancel, but it’s a writing assignment for work so I keep telling myself that everything is going to be fine even though I am going alone, I’ll be on the floor smashed into a crowd full of devout Little Monsters – an imposter among loyal super fans – and I have no idea what’s going to happen – all things that send me into an anxiety spiral. Read on…

PTSD Perspectives


I’m going to start with pieces that explore some of the toughest, resilient folks in society and how mental health issues persist, yes, even for them.

First, this article is the first in a series for The Guardian:

Why are America’s farmers killing themselves in record numbers?

by Debbie Weingarten

The suicide rate for farmers is more than double that of veterans. A former farmer gives an insider’s perspective on farm life – and how to help

The US farmer suicide crisis echoes a much larger farmer suicide crisis happening globally: an Australian farmer dies by suicide every four days; in the UK, one farmer a week takes his or her own life; in France, one farmer dies by suicide every two days; in India, more than 270,000 farmers have died by suicide since 1995. Read on…

 

My client, ProPublica is doing an investigative series on PTSD in first responders. Learn more about it, and how you might help, here:

Help Us Investigate PTSD in First Responders

by Abe Aboraya

PTSD rates in first responders haven’t been studied at a national scale, but smaller studies of firefighters have found it to be anywhere between 6.5 percent and 37 percent. We know PTSD not only affects the first responder, but also those around them. Read on…

They’ve also done reporting on PTSD in violent neighborhoods:

The Best Reporting on PTSD in Children Exposed to Violence

by Lois Beckett

When people think of post-traumatic stress disorder, they often focus on military veterans. But there’s  growing evidence that PTSD is also a serious problem for American civilians, especially those exposed to violence in their own neighborhoods. Researchers in Atlanta found that  1 out of 3 inner-city residents they interviewed had experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives. Read on…

And writer Melissa Blake offers some first-hand insights:

How to Support a Loved One with PTSD — from Someone Who Has It

by Melissa Blake

When I was at my worst, there was one question that always made me feel better: “How are you feeling?”

It sounds simple, but to someone who’s grieving or struggling with PTSD, there’s something very powerful and comforting about this question. Read on…


Depression Perspectives


Giving Up Breastfeeding Made Me a Better Mom. Here’s Why

by Madeleine Deliee

I expected that pregnancy would change my body. I was prepared to give up alcohol, sushi, and high heels. I didn’t expect that I’d have to change my antidepressant. It felt like such a part of my daily existence, it never occurred to me that it would be another sacrifice to The Baby—until my doctor lowered the boom. I would have to drop the drug I’d taken for the past three years, the one that finally, finally worked to relieve the persistent depression I’d wrestled with intermittently throughout my life. Read on…

I Have Compassion For Everyone Struggling With Depression Except Me

by Erin Khar

If I were speaking to someone else who felt this way, I would say, “It’s okay. You can be 100% grateful for your life and still feel depressed. Depression is not a choice. Depression is a chronic mental illness, and it doesn’t make you bad or broken or selfish.” 

And still, I struggle to believe that for myself. Read on…

 It Isn’t That Shocking

by Leslie Kendall Dye

Just as a pacemaker supplies electricity to a faulty heart, an ECT machine offers a brief jolt to induce a seizure that, for reasons that remain mysterious, induces a healing response in the brains of many agitated people. I might call it a pacemaker for the soul. Some theorize that the brain goes into a kind of healing overdrive in response to the seizure; according to Tye, Columbia researchers have found that ECT stimulates the growth of new neurons.  Read on…


Anxiety Perspectives


The Big Scare: My Anxiety Disorder Story

by Hannah R. Goodman

One of the things I really appreciate about this piece, in addition to the “what it’s like” component, is how Goodman explores the often shifting, changing nature of mental illness. For many of us, just when you think you have it figured out, it morphs into something else.

Depression and anxiety are in our genes. According to research, there is a thirty percent inheritability for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Some folks are predisposed to this condition in the same way that they can be susceptible to Type 1 Diabetes.  Read On..

How My Panicked Trip to the ER Exposed a Major Flaw in Mental Health Care

by Caroline Shannon-Karasik

She says that, because of a constant cultural reinforcement to “get over it” or to adopt an “other people have it worse” attitude, this stigma and lack of empathy continues to “create barriers in seeking emergency mental health attention.” Read on..

My Relationship Isn’t Doomed Because of My Mental Illness

by Gretchen Gales

To clarify, it’s not like we don’t want to “just relax” or shut down our anxious thoughts. We want to be able to live our lives without the constant “what ifs,” questioning our sanity and our ability to be loved. If you listen to us instead of being judgmental, we might have time to tell you that. But the more we are shut down, the more we will shut down. Read on…

Anxiety in Color

by Bryden Smith

Later, in the fall of 2015, after I graduated, I sat in a design classroom at CU Denver full of MacBooks and actual artists. They were working with ease through a Photoshop tutorial while I struggled. I stared at my blank screen. I looked at the others around me. I felt different.

You’re not good enough.  Read on…


Postpartum/Parenting Perspectives


Teresa Twomey: On The Big Bad Wolf of Postpartum Mood Disorders

by Katherine Stone

Fortunately, there are “bricks” to build a house against the big bad wolf of postpartum psychosis. The first set of bricks the foundation, is knowledge of self.  Read on…

On Being a Mother with Bi-Polar Disorder

by Carrie London

When people hear that I am a blogger, they always ask what I write about. This is a tricky question because I don’t actually know at any given time and so I usually just give a glazed over answer of “mothering with bipolar disorder”. If this doesn’t scare them away immediately, they might ask what IS it like to be a mother with bipolar disorder. Read on…


Lesser Explored Perspectives


What If: On Black Lives and Mental Health

by Jodi Savage

Having a serious mental illness is bad enough, but Being black in America, with a mental illness can be life-threatening.

When I think of Black Lives Matter, I think of my grandmother. Shortly after her seventieth birthday, she begins calling 911 in the middle of the night to report invisible squatters and the children they leave in her care. Although she is a black woman who was born in segregated Florida, she has always had a reverence for the police for as long as I can remember. “The cops used to ride behind me to make sure I got home safely,” she often tells me about her nightly walks home from work when she was just twelve years old. If there were a picture of the holy trinity, Granny’s would be a color portrait of Jesus, President Barack Obama, and a police officer. Read on…

Monsters in His Head

by Tanya Slavin

My six-year-old son Martin has Selective Mutism (SM), a rare childhood anxiety disorder that makes a child who is perfectly capable of speaking unable to speak in certain situations. At this time, Martin only speaks to family members and a few family friends. Read on…

I Tried Brow Wigs After Trichotillomania Led Me to Pull Out My Eyebrows

by Hannah Rimm

Trichotillomania (TTM or trich for short) is an impulse control disorder, which involves the recurrent and insatiable desire to pull out one’s own hair. For me, it manifests as a need to pull out my eyebrows with a lesser desire to pull out my eyelashes and body hair. It gets worse when I’m depressed and it soothes my anxiety and I’ve been searching for solutions for my completely non-existent brows for months. Read on…

I Survived Cancer. So Why Was I So Sad?

by Pam Parker

I’d been cancer-free for nine months when I found myself weeping over poorly made eggs-over-easy. The yolks were hard, instead of dripping and lovely and orange. Those rigid yolks were the proverbial last straw. I’d had cancer for God’s sakes, and I was crying over eggs? I was supposed to be a survivor. Read on…


Eating Disorders


When Anorexics Grow Up

by Lisa Fogarty

The aging anorexic doesn’t make for a compelling movie. Adults with the disorder aren’t represented in pop culture and news outlets, so I assumed we were either supposed to outgrow our eating disorders or die. Read on…


And finally, for those who want to write about their experiences…

How to Write About Your Disability

by Rebecca Swanson

Make someone cry. Show how mighty you are, because your disability has made you so. The more people you make cry, and the harder you make them cry, the mightier you are. The mightier you are, the more people will want to read and share your story.

No one wants to read about you if you aren’t mighty. Read on…

 

I hope you get a lot from these pieces. And again, please share your recommendations below.


 

A walk in the park.  Our busy lives make it seem so difficult.

I’m making the simple act of walking more of a priority in my daily life. And boy howdy, does it change my mood. It was good to just be in the moment. To feel the wonder again. Here are a few photos from my stroll this morning. (I’m no photographer, but hope these bring you some peace anyway. )

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start admiring the little things again.

 

Last night I heard a powerful story of vision and passion, a story I am excited to share with you.  At Toastmasters* one of my co-members spoke about the idea of vision, specifically our individual visions for what we wanted to achieve through Toastmasters.  He invited us to take a moment  to really think about what we hope to do with the speaking and leadership skills we are learning.  He illustrated what is was like to have vision (& pursue it) with two stories.  One of those stories especially struck a chord with me.

Viktor-FranklViktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who lived through WWII in Europe.  Dr. Frankl was also Jewish and as such was relegated to concentration camps, where, as you may guess, he encountered the extremes of human suffering.  What set Dr. Frankl apart however was his approach to the ordeals he faced.  Despite the dire circumstances of his surroundings, including all of his family suffering similar fates, he decided to use his passion and experience to help others cope with their desperate situation.  He used his knowledge to help those around him and himself.  Here is an excerpt from the book he wrote after he was released from  Türkheim camp:

“We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”

Saying Yes to Life in Spite of Everything: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp (in German), known in English by the title Man’s Search for Meaning (1959)

When I heard this story last night it cut me to the quick.  We all have situations we are trying to “survive,” or muddle through without losing our minds – a dramatic family situation, a bad relationship, an irritating job, etc.  But most of us (here in America) are not facing the real drama of living through something like a concentration camp.  Yet this man, Dr. Viktor Frankl, when faced with a nightmare, decided to not give up hope or lose his vision.  He reframed his circumstances and continued to use his God-given gifts anyway and as a result he helped many as well as himself.

Dr. Frankl went on to teach across Europe and the US, including Harvard.  He received 29 honorary doctoral degrees, published 39 books, translated into 40 languages, one of which (Man’s Search for Meaning) was toted one of  “the ten most influential books in the United States.”  In 1985 he was awarded the Oskar Pfister Award for contributions to religion and psychiatry.

I look forward to learning more about Dr. Frankl.  But in the meantime, I am blessed to have heard a bit of his story.  It fuels my commitment to live fully, passions infused and vision intact, despite the hard times.

Imagine what is possible if we choose to shine despite the darkness, if we reach down to the deepest part of us and pull up our true selves to face the world!!

 

 *Toastmasters is an educational group which helps you learn speaking & leadership skills.  (Let me know if you ever want to come with- it’s awesome)

It’s a busy life, but I try to carve out a little time each week for just me and a little open space.  Whether its a park or a nature preserve I need a little time to myself.  This is so essential to me.  When I don’t get it I start to wind up tightly.  We forget, in our modern lives, how to get back to the way things should be — surrounded by our natural way of life.

John Muir, whom I am pretty sure I would have had a big crush on if we were contemporaries, said it best:

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
-John Muir

I hope you can get a little space to just “be” this week.