Mental Health

No One Brings You Chicken Soup When You’re Depressed

There are approximately 1 in 4 people living with a mental illness worldwide. Think of that. It’s a huge number. And yet, I bet you’d have trouble naming more than one person in your life who has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

In 2015, discussions about mental health are still often done in whispers behind closed doors. “Don’t let them hear you” is something I’ve been told before. I’ve been hushed. I’ve been told the topic is inappropriate. I’ve been threatened to be “outed” about my history of mental illness (of which I speak and write about a lot, so I’m not sure what their goal was).

I’ve been told a lot of things about mental illness in my life. That it’s a choice. That I can control it. That kids and teens can’t have it. That I don’t look like someone with it. More recently, I was laughed at when I told someone I had ADHD, they then followed up with telling me only teenagers “get it” (it’s a communicable disease apparently), and women can’t ever have it.  I’ve been called oversensitive, selfish, ridiculous, and so on. Other loved ones with mental illness have been called dramatic, bored, and disruptive. (Thankfully, my family has always been nothing short of supportive.)

I feel strongly the reason so many suffer, often without treatment, is because we don’t talk about it. I don’t tell you what therapies or medications have worked for me. You don’t share what coping skills you can’t live without. We don’t open our arms and say, “I accept you.”

No one brings you chicken soup when you’re depressed. I’ve been part of community groups and have seen others’ involvement in their church groups. There is usually a call for meals or crocheting blankets or visits for those who are ill. Cancer comes up a lot, and other chronic physical illnesses, as well as when someone has had a baby. I’ve never heard a request made to bring meals to someone who just left rehab. Or to check in on someone who just changed their prescription. How welcome a small reminder of love it might be to receive a handmade, cozy blanket while laying in the ER at 3 A.M. as your world collapses beneath you. (Robot Hugs has created several perfect comics addressing much of this.)

Some people will laugh at the idea of people reaching out in these scenarios. Well of course, who would share that they just left rehab or that they take psychiatric drugs?

That is the problem. Why don’t we? Why is there still stigma? Why do we fear losing our jobs, freaking out our partners, having our kids taken from us? We stay silent. We know that if we say “I have anxiety and OCD,” “I am bipolar,” etc. that instantly people will assume to know everything about us. We suddenly become unreliable, unstable, and even unlikable.

How do we change this? Well, the first step is for people like me who can come out and speak about their mental illness, to do just that. I’ve been talking about it for years, and in the fields I work in, it’s not really an issue. So I can speak out, without fear of being blacklisted. The more each of us speak out, we can change minds. People will see real, actual people with mental illness, and not the often cringe-worthy portrayals of us on television and in movies.

From there, I hope others with mental illness can step forward, without worry of reprisals. Collectively, we can be so powerful that we can change how society treats us, how the media reports on us, how caretakers and hospitals deal with us, and how insurance companies value (or often harm) our health.

This week, John Oliver brilliantly observed all that is wrong with our system and how we treat those with mental illness in this country. You don’t have insurance coverage. Or the coverage you have only covers 30% of care that costs $1000 per day. Or your therapist doesn’t accept any insurance. Or you have coverage, but they’ll only allow you to stay inpatient for 48 hours. The hurdles someone with mental illness has to go through to have their care and medication covered are inhumane. We have to fix that.

We also need to get help to people before they are suicidal or living on the streets or addicted to substances. We wait until it is a dire emergency to take our heads out of the sand and say, “Oh! I guess you need a psych eval!” What other disease or disorder in the world is treated like that? Let’s wait until cancer has nearly killed you before looking at chemo as an option. Let’s hold off until your arteries are clogged enough that you may have a heart attack at any moment before we intervene. Let’s wait until your lung functioning is at 10% before we treat your asthma.

With the number of suicides happening each year, how can you say we are not in crisis? We desperately need to change this conversation.

So, what you can you, a family member, friend, or professional do to help? Just that, ask how you can help the person. Send them a text message. Mail them a card. Bring them chicken soup, or McDonald’s, or whatever else you know they’d like. Send them a care package. Listen to them.

Be present. Don’t pull back because you are scared or confused or you don’t know what to say. It is perfectly fine to tell us you wish you knew what to say. We get it. Just be here. I know for me, a lot of times, I don’t want you talk. I don’t even want to talk. My head gets so distorted and full of thoughts, I just want to watch a show and forget it all. Or play a video game and be someone else for awhile.

Don’t look at me like I’m weak. I’m not. I’m tougher than most people, don’t ever let mental illness make you think someone is not strong as hell. Respect all the work I put into addressing my mental health needs.

Don’t belittle people with mental illness. From dealing with insurance companies to showing up for therapy appointments to dealing with nasty side effects of medication to trying to care for yourself each day, getting through life with mental illness usually requires a ton of effort. Don’t ever disparage those efforts. You may not ever understand why, when your friend is having a rough spell, they cannot cook for themselves or don’t brush their hair. You don’t have to understand, just know that your friend would be doing those things if it were easy. And know that they probably shame themselves enough for not being able to do that stuff, so you can hold your judgment at the door.

Bring me chicken soup, ask if I want a hug, and build me a blanket fort. When I feel stronger, write letters, make phone calls, and shout into the megaphone along with me. Be there for the people in your life. Fight alongside them for better care and greater access to that care. Let your friends, family, and co-workers/employees know that you support and accept them. Open up a dialogue today.

What if we treated physical illness like we treat mental illness? Food for thought, from Robot Hugs.

What if we treated physical illness like we treat mental illness? Food for thought, from Robot Hugs.


My Cautionary Tale About Suicide and Smiles

How can a girl who smiles all the time be thinking about suicide?

The fact that happy-go-lucky me was ready to end her life confused people. Quite often, none of us fit whatever description the media or your imagination has created for what someone with mental illness might look or act like. My smiles were rarely real; it was a mask I wore.

What does a 15-year old have to be depressed about anyway?

That was another question people in my life asked when I was hospitalized. They looked to blame something, anything — my music, my friends, my books. If they were surprised I was depressed at 15, they should have heard what my 10-year old mind was thinking.

My family, my friends, my music or books were not to blame. It was simply a glitch in my brain. A number of factors, including my genetics, all came together and created a brilliant, creative, and sometime-disordered mind. (Sidenote: I’m a proponent of Neurodiversity, and I embrace and accept all facets of my wonderful, though sometimes self-destructive, mind.)

I felt the need to share my story for World Suicide Prevention Day. A big reason why suicide is such an epidemic is due to the stigma surrounding it. We don’t talk about it. Those of us who have contemplated, planned, or attempted our own deaths rarely speak of it. We’re told to be ashamed of it.

Throughout my life, I’ve been routinely told the dangers of speaking out about mental illness, of being hospitalized, and being suicidal. I’ve been told it would risk my career, my relationships, even that it would worsen my mental health. Yet, I’ve been free to discuss my connective tissue disorder or my back surgery. Those were allowed to be mentioned in public. No one wanted to hear about my anxiety or depression or ADHD.

Looking in the other direction and ignoring the oncoming storm doesn’t make the storm go away. I won’t pretend to have all the answers to prevent suicide, but I do know that stigmatizing mental health and never talking about suicide are two ways that won’t work. So I’m here, and I’m talking.

People who have never had depression or have never thought of killing themselves find it difficult (if not impossible) to understand what someone like me has gone through. They don’t realize the energy it can take to be alive. It can be exhausting. They don’t know how difficult it is to get out of bed in the morning, to take a shower, to speak to anyone. It is draining.

They’ve no clue what an absolute energy-suck it is slapping on a smile and going through your day pretending everything is okay. I wore the mask so well, that when I ended up hospitalized for a few weeks, most people were totally shocked.

“But she smiles all the time!”

“I just saw her and we laughed together.”

That’s the myth. People battling depression, anxiety, or any other mental disorder are never happy, never calm, never average. And people who are suicidal? Well, the public is sure they’d recognize us from miles away. Except they don’t. And that is why suicide is so prevalent, we even have a month of awareness for it and a worldwide day focused on preventing it.

The summer before my sophomore year of high school, no one had any idea of the thoughts in my head. They’d started years earlier. I felt like a burden to my family due to the medical expenses of my back surgery and other health issues while in middle school. I felt emotions heavier than anyone else in my family. My heart ached for injustices everywhere. I physically felt hurt from things that weren’t even a part of my life. For years, I bottled up all these emotions, including thoughts of suicide, and put a smile on for the world to see.

At night, I’d lay awake in bed and worry about all the horrible things that could happen to me or were happening to others in the world. I began to fear germs and had to perform certain rituals in order for my world to have any sense of calm. I started counting, street signs mostly. I also had to read all the words on every street sign, or else I’d feel immense anxiety. I had stomachaches and headaches. This was all before high school. (A note to parents: don’t ever think that your elementary or middle school aged child couldn’t possibly be dealing with depression, anxiety, etc.)

As I entered high school, I began to feel more lost. I was never quite sure where I fit in, who I was, what I wanted. I was a bystander in my life.

Sometime early on in my freshman year, I began cutting. I had this black and red triangular-shaped razor that came with a stationary set. I had it with me everywhere I went. I’d go to the bathroom during class and cut. I’d do it at home in my bedroom. I was smoking on occasion then as well, but cutting always made me feel better than cigarettes.

I hid my cuts and scars, wearing long pants and shirts for most of the year. (My wardrobe hid my body, which also helped as I struggled with body dysmorphia.) In the summer, I’d wear thick bracelets and watches to keep my marks hidden. I was fooling everyone. Including myself.

I can’t recall what the turning point was that summer before my sophomore year. I don’t know when the idea to kill myself first really gained steam. There wasn’t a single event that made everything crumble. I think it was just that one can only hold all that darkness in for so long. I was unstable, but I had no warning signs, nor did anyone around me, of what was to come.

The relief I felt when I decided to kill myself was immense. When people gripe about suicide being selfish, I want them to understand that when you reach that point, it feels like the least selfish thing you could do. Mental illness had convinced me I was a burden. I was expensive. I was dramatic. I was too sensitive. I was a bother. I was a waste of cells. I was disgusting. I was worthless. I’d imagined how much easier my family would have it without me.

I never once thought of how they’d feel attending my funeral. I never thought of how my death would effect my friends. It never dawned on me that either would be a negative thing for those in my life. I thought I’d be doing everyone a favor.

When one reaches the point of being suicidal, it’s hard to think of being worthy of anything else. Mental illness clouds our judgment, and our thoughts are filled with such pain and agony, that ideas of suicide ease all of that. I felt lighter. This is the bitch about suicide, for a lot of us, getting to a place where you begin to plan killing yourself actually makes you feel better. Life seems tolerable, finally — it’s all temporary. You can get through the school day or that work meeting or family dinner. The end is in sight.

By August, I’d been planning how I’d do it and where. Then I got lucky.

My mother, always observant, finally noticed a mark on my arm. I remember the rest in snippets. I remember crying as she asked questions. I don’t think I answered. I’m not sure. I cried because my plans were ruined. I cried because finally I could. All the months and years of shoving it all inside me, and now it felt like all those feelings were escaping me.

My mother acted on her instincts. She immediately brought me to the nearest mental hospital with an adolescent unit. She didn’t believe me when I told the doctors I wouldn’t try to do anything over the weekend. It was Friday afternoon, just before Labor Day weekend. I remember lying to the doctor, assuring them I wouldn’t hurt myself. Meanwhile all I was thinking was how I just needed to get home and get this all over with. My mom pleaded with the doctors, saying she didn’t think she could keep me safe (and the truth is, no one but a hospital could have). I was admitted to the hospital and the rest is a story for another time.

If you are suicidal, I want you to know that it is possible to get out of that pit. I assure you, the world and the people around you would be devastated if you killed yourself. I know it all seems impossible. I saw no way out. I know finding the energy to talk to someone, even a hotline, can be overwhelming. But I will repeat it again and again: it is worth it.

You are worth it.

It was work. I’m not going to lie. I needed a lot of therapy. I needed more than just therapy. I needed medication and so much more. It wasn’t instant. And it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses since I walked out of the mental hospital.

But, I’m still here.

I want you to be too. I want you to know you are not alone. There are many of us who have been where you are now. We are all supporting you.

If you are depressed or dealing with any other mental illness, please get help. Ask family, ask a friend, ask a coworker, ask a neighbor. Call a hotline. Seek online resources. It’s a good thing to ask for help. You are not weak. You are not a burden. There are resources if you don’t have insurance or lack the money for treatment.

Do not give up.

If a therapist or a medication doesn’t work, try a new one. Please don’t give up on yourself. You are not broken or doing something wrong if Plan A doesn’t help you. Do not forget that. I’m still here because of Plans B through H.


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line (Text “START” to 741-741)

UK Supportline: 01708 765200

Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14

The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386
Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860


To Write Love On Her Arms Resource List

Do Something Hotline List

Project Semicolon

#IAmNOTKelliStapleton: Shame on Anyone Defending Her Actions

Every child should be granted the opportunity to blossom.

Every child should be given the opportunity to blossom.

My daughter just had a 40-minute tantrum. She is 10 years old. We have dubbed her tantrums, “overloads” (thanks to a Twitter friend’s recommendation). She didn’t want us to call the outbursts tantrums, as “that is what babies have.” Today’s overload was because she did not want to do her homework.

Her overloads can be intense and she has great difficulty with them. She screams, cries, kicks, hits, throws things. Some days, she and I can use techniques we’ve learned and help ease the situation. Other times, like today, there is no soothing until she wears herself out. Today, that meant choking and gagging from screaming and crying and hyperventilating, and being absolutely exhausted when she was able to calm down again.

During these overloads, it is common that I feel overwhelmed. They are emotional. They are loud. They make her older sister anxious. I would love to be on a beach relaxing in the sun or doing countless other things at those moments. I can only imagine what my daughter would rather be doing than experiencing an overload herself. (more…)

The Shooting Near UCSB Has My Mind Spinning…

[CN: sexual assault, violence, ableism]

photo (10)

I have so many thoughts going through my head right now about the shooting in California. They vary from anger and frustration at those who are throwing out “mental illness” and “Asperger” as either reasons or excuses for these crimes. (This piece, from two days ago no less, by John Elder Robison is perfect in its explanation of the unfounded link people attempt to make between autism and murder.) Using mental illness or autism as reasons that someone has committed murder, even just as speculation hours after such crimes, only further serves to stigmatize. Most people with mental illness or on the spectrum are not violent. Rather, they have an increased risk of being victims of violence. Those are the facts. (more…)

I Am Sounding the Alarm (on Autism Propaganda, Everyday)

[CN: ableism, murder, violence]

puzzleownToday is the last day of “Autism Awareness Month” and a lot of the news stories featuring autism will be tucked away until next spring. I’m sure a certain organization has had quite a successful “Autism Speaks Fundraising Month,” I’m sorry, I mean, April. Much of my discussion this month revolved around Autism Speaks. I simply can’t get away from them this time of year. From chocolate bunnies to baseball games to toys, many of you have seen your fair share of blue puzzle pieces and have probably inadvertently donated to them. I wrote earlier this month why I do not support Autism Speaks. Believe it or not, I have even more reasons.

When people ask me why I don’t like Autism Speaks, I explain their lack of focus on true advocacy for autistic people, the bulk of their funding does not go toward creating support systems and programs, and that their campaigns are dehumanizing and harm people on the spectrum. When people ask for specific examples of this, I first point to Autism Everyday. Some say I’m too stuck in the past, that was almost 10 years ago. Okay, then I Am Autism. When people mention that Autism Speaks apologized for it, I point to Suzanne Wright’s 2013 Call for Action. Whether I’m looking to a decade ago or to this year and their Sounding the Alarm documentary, Autism Speaks hasn’t changed their message. Since the public isn’t typically familiar with all of their rhetoric, I decided to break it down here. After reading this, tell me how I’m supposed to give my support to Autism Speaks. (more…)

The FDA Hearing and The Judge Rotenberg Center: What You Should Know

[CN: abuse, ableism, torture]

Photo: Canton Community TV

Imagine being electro-shocked for getting out of your seat without asking permission. Imagine that the reason you were being shocked was simply because you may become aggressive, and all of it was legal. Imagine wearing the electrodes on your skin 24-7, knowing you could be shocked at any moment. Imagine witnessing your peers be shocked as well. Imagine that all of this is ignored because the public barely, if at all, acknowledges your existence.

This isn’t fiction, nor is it in some far away place or just a shameful part of history. This is happening in America, in 2014. The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) uses “aversives” as part of their treatment program. Aversives can vary, but some of the aversives used at JRC include electric shock (which is not ECT), mechanical restraints, and food deprivation.  Aversives are used for behaviors the staff deem “inappropriate” or “disruptive,” ranging from blowing bubbles with saliva to not maintaining a neat appearance. In addition to electro shocks, JRC practices isolation and physical restraints as per multiple reports (including former employees and members of the New York State Education Department review team). This is a difficult read (major TW for severe abuse, death), but necessary if you want to truly grasp the horror that goes on at the Judge Rotenberg Center.

In 2011, the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS) ruled that licensed facilities can no longer use “behavioral interventions” such as “electric shock, long-term treatment, or aversives that post risk for psychological harm” on new admissions. Essentially the treatment program JRC has long proclaimed as a success is now deemed unfit. The problem is, this ruling is only for new admissions. Any students previously admitted and receiving aversives as part of their program, however harmful, are still being shocked. This is troubling. Most people are unaware that there is no federal law banning the use of aversives, even shock devices, even on children, even in schools, even on people with disabilities. State laws vary and it can be illegal to use such aversives in some, but no federal law yet exists to protect our citizens against a human rights violation. There is a lot of work to be done here. (more…)

“I chased my mom with an axe.”

[CN: mental health, violent crime]

image-1He said it with a smirk on his face. The tone was the same I’d use when telling my big sister I’d eaten the last cookie. I stopped gluing my collage and looked up. The art therapist asked Chris* what he was feeling at the time. He said he was angry. Then he smiled. The therapist reminded him it was not funny, and that he was there to get help so he wouldn’t do that again. He laughed. Chris was 10 years old. I went back to cutting out clips from magazines. Our project was a collage to express our feelings. Chris didn’t finish his. He was removed from the art room because he refused to sit back down and listen to the therapist.

He was the youngest among us. I was 15 and represented the average age of the patients in the adolescent ward of the psychiatric hospital. Most of us were high schoolers, working out our depression, anxiety, anger management, some were recovering from drug addiction and eating disorders. I was told by others that Chris had been in there a long time. Some of the patients privately disclosed they were afraid of him, others cracked jokes at how “crazy” he was and that he’d never get out of there. (more…)

Rape Victims Aren’t “Breaking Buzz”

[CN: rape, sexual assault]

If you are going to write about sexual assault, and particularly publish first-person accounts of the intimate details about one’s assault, you’d better do it right. I read The Root’s coverage on the hundreds of responses to “what were you wearing when you were assaulted?” last night on Twitter. I felt they did a tasteful job and noted that Christina Fox (@Steenfox), who led the discussion, was interviewed for the piece. Desmond-Harris’ writing reflected her concern for the victims, and ensured their privacy while still telling the story. I read the Buzzfeed* one next, and it just didn’t feel right. It was presented, like all things on Buzzfeed in a list-format. Throwing tweets on top of sexual assault stats, it was really awful.

Worse still, were people’s claims they did not give permission to have their tweets published. I’m not here to argue that, other people on Twitter are doing a better job explaining the ethics involved if that is the case. Whatever permission may or may not have been given, the Buzzfeed piece was slapped together and published while people on Twitter were still sending in their responses to Fox! I would like to think that hundreds of sexual assault and rape victims having such an important and relevant discussion would be seen as more than buzz-worthy. Buzzfeed was far more interested in publishing their click-bait before anyone else could profit from it. That is disturbing. The Root piece has substance and opens the discussion further to its readers. This is a vital part of the dialogue we must be having in order to end rape culture. The Buzzfeed one carelessly spit a list out. There is a time and a place for “breaking buzz,” last night was not one of those moments. (more…)

Final Thoughts On Amanda Marcotte’s Piece

[CN: sexual assault, domestic violence]

A thoughtful and well-executed response to Amanda Marcotte’s Slate piece, by Angus Johnston, was published today. My open letter is mentioned in it and as such, I was notified when the article went up. I’d been keeping an eye on Twitter for reaction and came across Marcotte’s back and forth with Johnston. I was immediately disappointed and frustrated. Statements like this one tell me she is missing many points her critics have made:

Marcotte claims she didn’t advocate for “broad policy,” something I’ve seen her tweet once or twice this week (to the small handful of criticisms she actually replied to). I’m not sure how Marcotte defines “broad policy,” but a few key points from her Slate article would easily lead someone to believe she is promoting, something at the very least near to, broad policy. Never once does she clarify “not in all cases” or “this may work only for certain circumstances,” but rather alludes to abusers and rapists who will attack again when victims don’t testify. A tough-love attitude throughout, Marcotte never states this is something she feels should not be available or used in all cases. Without clarification, one would inference she is okay with such a policy whenever the law deems necessary. What an awful idea! This not only puts the blame on the victim, but also promotes the idea that if we report and if we testify, that justice will be served; not to mention the false notion that our doing so will prevent an attacker from ever assaulting another person.

In her Slate piece, Marcotte states, “The victim’s refusal to cooperate is a problem endemic to the prosecution of domestic violence.” I cannot stomach victim-blaming, in whatever form and whoever the messenger is. (more…)

An Open Letter To Amanda Marcotte

[CN: sexual assault, domestic violence, PTSD]

Dear Amanda,

I know I’m only one in a swell of people angry at you right now for your latest Slate piece. I hope you will take the time to at least hear some of our voices, especially those of us who are victims. I can only assume, given the tone and your utter lack of empathy toward rape and domestic violence victims that you are neither. I am grateful for that, I would wish no one such pain*. I’m saddened to see, however, your inability to understand the torment, anxiety, and roller coaster of emotions that comes with experiencing such violence. Your piece, and your beliefs, are callous and harmful.

The other night, my partner was frustrated at a jerk who ran a light while we were crossing the street. He, having to dodge the car, was understandably angry at the driver. He hollered at the driver and looked mad as hell. I immediately cowered, my pulse quickened, I had to remind myself to breathe. As we walked through Brooklyn on what was supposed to be a fun night out, my thoughts raced, and I proceeded to withdraw. I flashed back to the men who were abusive, whose anger was taken out on me, who were a danger to me. In an instant, my partner’s very normal reaction triggered me into a full-blown anxiety attack. I felt like I was drowning. (more…)