Not Drowning

I’m not a photographer or graphic artist. I’ve always been good with words and make my living writing. It’s my talent.

I was always jealous of those who were good at the visual arts though. I took photography classes in high school, went to a cartooning school (they exist!), and tried drawing comics, but was never very good.

I kept dabbling throughout the decades, though, and learned some skills along the way.

So when EyeEm, a social photography site that allows you to sell your photographs, announced a competition involving Mental Health, I wanted to at least contribute.

I took a picture of my semicolon tattoo and made the attached photo. I’m just an amateur but I kind of like it. My professional photographer friends said I did a good job. And it got accepted for the EyeEm market!

Here’s my EyeEm profile just to show that anyone can submit.

Just wanted to share with everyone–and also say that if you’re an artist of any kind, get your work out there! Share your gift with the world.

Letter to my Anxiety

I’ve lived with you so long I don’t know life without being afraid. Because of you, I’ve missed out on so many good things in life I want to experience.

I want to go to concerts and music festivals. You keep me at home, making me feel ashamed and isolated. My iTunes account is so full of movies I’ve randomly bought to try to forget the panic and what I’m missing.

You randomly appear out of nowhere and paralyze me. I’m somewhere safe, somewhere comfortable surrounded by people who love me. And you decide to force me into bed, trying to make you go away with the breathing exercises I’ve learned along the way and failing.

You got me addicted to benzos. You made my mental health professionals distrust me with medication.

There are so many people I could’ve met, so many friends I could’ve made. But you show up and make me a fool, cause me to make excuses and run home to be alone. And even then, you’re my constant companion.

I am so afraid of the world. This comes from the panic attacks you’ve caused throughout my entire life that I’ve learned that the only way I can go out is to force myself. To make sure I have the proper medication with me at all times. And to always be aware of the escape routes in case things get bad.

You ruined my marriage with your friend depression. You scare my parents. You make the one friend I have constantly worry about me.

Anxiety, I don’t know life without you. You are fully a part of me like my teeth or my hands. Always buzzing in the background, always reminding me that no matter what skills I learn, the amount of help I get, you will be there, ready to ruin my dreams.

Mental Healthcare for Those That Don’t

Several months ago, I was forced into an inpatient hospital stay for my mental health. I was not suicidal, not planning to harm myself, or planning to harm anyone else. I was just very depressed and wanted to be watched so I wouldn’t plummet into the pit.

Instead, everything was made worse. You can read the entirety of my experience here: My Hospital Stay posted on my personal blog.

But today, I read this story: Chicago Psychiatric Hospital Is Under Fire Over Reports Alleging Abuse of Children

This was the hospital where I was interred. And yes, the staff didn’t give any ounce of a shit about the patients. The poor kids who were sent to Lakeshore hospital in crisis only to be sexually abused and traumatized by the staff supposed to be taking care of them. I can’t imagine what they’re feeling. I only pray they are getting proper professional help.

I’m sorry, but this is what happens when we neglect the weakest amongst us. This is why elections matter. What happened at Lakeshore was decades in the making, spanning back to Reagan and his defunding of mental health facilities.

I am so angry and upset that we allow this to happen in our culture. That those who are struggling emotionally and mentally are cast aside to be abused.

You say that Republicans and Democrats are basically one and the same? I ask you, which party threw out mentally ill people into the streets? It wasn’t the one that espouses liberal philosophies.

On November 8th, 2016, our country decided to throw a hissy fit and elected a dangerous man. The mentally ill are already ignored and incapable of receiving quality care thanks to a president elected in the 80’s. What’s going to happen now? Are there going to be more Lakeshores?

Or can we get these monsters out of power and demand the dignity and quality care we deserve? I hope, when 2020 rolls around, everyone remembers Lakeshore Hospital in Chicago and what happened there. And I hope you remember what caused it to happen.

Because we cannot go backwards.

The Stigma of Mental Illness

I am so sick of everyone in this country calling White mass shooters “mentally ill”. Perhaps they are, perhaps not. But it shows a deep misunderstanding of what it is to be mentally ill and decreases the help in treatment of those of us who are truly mentally ill while further increasing stigma around mental illness.

Diagnosed Bipolar? Be careful, you might crack and go on a shooting spree! Which is complete bullshit.

We need to stop labeling the mass shooters as mentally ill. They are criminals, terrorists. Mental illness has nothing to do with the actions taken by a shooter. In fact, most mentally ill people are more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else.

We need to get rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness in order to start providing proper treatment for those that are mentally ill.

What do you think a person diagnosed with Depression or Anxiety or Bipolar or Schizophrenia starts to believe when an entire nation views mental illness as angry, white men with AR-15’s shooting people?

It makes us feel broken, that we are abnormal in this culture. We internalize these feelings and believe there is no hope for us. We are “evil” in some way. We may break and hurt someone. Which is complete bullshit.

Most mentally ill people are lashing in on themselves—they feel they are to blame for their depression, they are weak. It is some abnormality within myself that creates my sadness, my anxiety, my impulses, my self. I have a personality flaw.

When, in fact, I’m actually sick. I have a real disease called Depression or Anxiety or Bipolar. These things are real, not a part of me, not a character flaw, but an illness just like cancer.

We, as a culture, need to stop demonizing mental illness. We need to stop being afraid of it. You would never say “Try to fake you don’t have cancer. Smile. It’ll go away” to someone with cancer. Why say this to someone with Depression? Why invalidate a whole person’s struggle?

Mental illness needs to be better understood. It is not a character flaw. I’m not going to get better by “faking” it. I have an actual disease that affects my personality. It is dark. It is lethal. It is *real*. I’m not dangerous, I’m not someone to pity. I’m not insane or crazy or abnormal or any of that. I’m just like you, only I have an illness.

And once we accept this and stop thinking mass shooters are the face of mental illness, we truly can start progressing in proper methods of healing our minds.

We need better care. We need more understanding. And we need to dissolve the stigma around mental illness so people can feel comfortable asking for help. So we can improve the treatment of our mental health.

And so those of us with a mental illness don’t have to be so afraid in admitting we have an illness.

Partial Hospitalization Program and IOP

I wrote a blog post a few months ago detailing my experience with modern day mental health hospitalization. You can read it here. It was a nightmare experience that exposed the glaring holes in America’s mental health care.

Since then, I’ve enrolled in an intensive therapy program. They call it a Partial Hospitalization Program, but that’s just the insurance code used. It’s not as scary as it sounds. I’m not hospitalized, I’m not locked in a facility. Basically, I go to intensive group therapy everyday of the week from 9:30 AM to 2:00 PM.

Then there is a step down program called Intensive Outpatient Program. Which is, essentially, going to therapy 3-4 days a week from 9:30 AM to 12:00 PM. The difference between PHP and IOP is that PHP is to figure out the causes of thought distortions and to integrate with the the skills taught in the program. It can last from 2 weeks to 4 weeks.

IOP is practicing the skills learned and getting stable on medications. IOP is still intensive, but is a step down from PHP. Usually IOP lasts for a month or two. But it can end sooner.

At the facility where I’m at, I’m free to leave if I want, but I’ve found I don’t want to. Normally I shy away from group therapy. I don’t like interacting with others and never feel a connection with the other patients. But this time, it’s different.

I’ve fully committed to my treatment plan. I’ve fully committed to getting better. And that means going to group therapy and interacting with others facing the same issues I am.

I have to admit, my first week, I wanted to just go home. I was withdrawing, existing in my head through most group therapies. I retreated into my intellect. Each day we check in with a mood rating, the emotions we’re feeling, struggles we’re having, and topics we’d like to discuss. Then we move into mindfulness exercises. And this is where my intellect collided with the therapy.

I always found mindfulness new age hokum. It’s taking Eastern meditation and reinterpreting it as some psychological self-help crap. I always resisted it.

Until now.

After two months of intense therapy, sometimes not wanting to go in at all, wanting to isolate, but making myself to go in to therapy I can say this program saved my life.

I was at the bottom of a deep, dark depression. I was isolating and abusing substances. Thanks to Compass, I learned the skills I needed to work my way into a functional life. They didn’t fix me, but they gave me the skills and methods to start making things better.

They helped me find a great outside therapist (my current one being useless), worked with my psychiatrist on getting on the right medications and regime, and things actually look hopeful for once.

I have to say, if you are struggling, if you are hopeless, and you are scared of inpatient hospitals, please, please, please look into a Partial Hospitalization Program and Intensive Outpatient Program. Don’t let the names scare you. There is no hospital, you are free to come and go as you please.

But these people are professionals and truly care on you getting better. They know how to get things started and get you help. They will not treat you like scum or something unworthy of help. They truly care.

They saved my life. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or fears. I’ve been through it all. And I’m now better for it.

photo Credit: unsplash-logoMartha Dominguez de Gouveia