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

Things I Miss This Week: writing, video games, tv, gazing into the abyss, my bed…

From May 12, 2014

From May 12, 2014

So, as I’ve promised myself to write here at least once a week, I’m doing a quick check-in. Oh and yeah, I have some BlogHer news, if the picture didn’t give it away. I’ll get to that in a minute. I’ve been spending nearly every waking hour doing some training for an at-home job that would have regular weekly hours and would sure be a help getting my finances in order. Being an unemployed single mom does not have its privileges. Things have been pretty rough lately, so I’m keeping my fingers (and toes!) crossed this gig works out. I’ll find out next week. I’ll take all prayers, luck, vibes, meditations, what have you…

I have a lot of stuff that’s waiting to be written, either lurking in my head or half-drafted. This week is just not one to put much time or energy into writing. I will hopefully return to my regularly scheduled soapboxing next week. In the meantime, if you are new here, hello and thank you for checking my blog out. You can find me on Twitter and (new!) “LIKE” me on Facebook. There’s a bunch of other places you can find me listed over on the side bar as well. Oh and look, you can also help me pay my bills and save enough funds to buy a desperately needed laptop. Sorry, had to mention it!

I was delighted to receive an email last week from Deb Rox, Entertainment Editor at BlogHer, telling me they would be featuring my piece about diversity in comics. If you haven’t read it yet, please head over to BlogHer and check it out. Just as exciting, was seeing my quote and name in BlogHer’s newsletter on Monday. That news surely helped to lift my spirits. And not to be all cheesy by making a pun, but, Deb Rox really rocks. I’ll show myself out now…

More pieces coming next week, including pictures of the zoo cake I made. Until then, be well. Thank you again for coming by!

Some of my favorite pieces I’ve written lately:

Challenging Stigmas & an Imperfect System: My Struggle With Depression

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

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

An Open Letter to Jenny McCarthy

“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…)

Now Trending? #CutForBieber

[CN: self-harm, depression]

Edit: It’s now known this was in fact a prank by 4Chan (as Geek Mom supposed), but this HuffPost article explains again why this is no joke. I still have all the same things to say as I did this morning on this matter. Let’s have this discussion, help those in need, and quit making fun of those who self-harm.

This morning while scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw a few mentions of a trending hashtag, #CutForBieber. The most impactful item I came across was a Geek Mom article. I then looked at the actual tweets related to this hashtag. It was mind-boggling to see kids posting pictures of their bloody, slashed up arms, all for their favorite musician.

This “movement” came in the wake of Justin Bieber allegedly smoking pot, and his fans are disappointed with him. To prove this, and to “make” him stop doing bad things, they are supposedly cutting themselves. And, apparently, they will continue to do so until they feel Bieber is being good once again. As the Geek Mom article points out, this could all be a huge prank to begin with. Either way, it has shown a light on cutting, the public’s view of it, and other issues related to mental health. Even if one teenager cut herself to somehow prove something to a pop singer, then this entire thing, whether a joke or prank, is horribly wrong. I could point out and write about how two wrongs don’t make a right, or how a threat of “I’ll hurt myself if you do or don’t…” is bullshit, but, these are teenagers we’re dealing with. So why bother. They haven’t learned those lessons yet. Still, this hashtag shouldn’t be put on a shelf and labeled as “stupid things kids do.” There’s a bigger issue at hand here. (more…)