A Chapter About the Stigma and Isolation From my Memoir

In these unprecedented times of social isolation, I wanted to share my thoughts from my memoir. Yesterday, I offered suggestions about what you can do while the world is heading into a “shelter in place” type of society, and isolation will be a friend of ours. Today I wanted to share a chapter that can be helpful. You can always find my memoir on Amazon here. This chapter talks about the stigma surrounding mental illness but it also discisses more towards the end isolation.

Chapter Nine: The Stigma. What is it?

I MUST PREFACE THAT MY EXPERIENCE is not professional, I am not a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. What I write here is what I personally have learned and experienced when it comes to the stigma of mental illness. I ask that you take what you read here into further research. There are so many great resources out there on the internet.

The stigma surrounding mental illness is a real thing, but it is important to first look at what is a stigma? I consider a stigma something in your mind that you believe puts you at a disadvantage—like having a mental illness. It becomes a stereotype, not only in the lives of the sufferer but also in the minds of those who do not understand or have lived a day with a mental illness. The mental health stigma can lead you to worse mental health down the road. I am not immune. For a time, I hid behind the mental illness stigma, and went as far as convincing myself there was nothing wrong with me. I was scared of what it would mean to admit to myself that I had a mental illness.

Growing up, mental illness was not something that was talked about outside of a classroom setting. When kids that I grew up with talked about mental illness, it was always in a negative light. I remember as a middle school student, there was a mass shooting on the news that happened at a high school. The conversations among my peers were that only people with mental illness do such terrible things. It sat with me for a while, I knew very little about mental illness, and it was effortless to take what adults on the news said about mental health as fact. This only perpetuated the stereotype in my own mind as an adult with a mental illness. 

The problem when the stigma continues, is it can have some unintended consequences that have a lasting effect on a person’s mental health. One of the most significant issues that is talked about in the mental illness community is how the stigma has made sufferers reluctant to seek help. In my own experience, I was in my twenties before I sought help. It was only after years of struggle, a suicide attempt, and a diagnosis of Bipolar-1 that I got help. I hated it, and for years the denial that there was something wrong, kept me from genuinely finding peace in this mental illness life. 

When it comes to an understanding, there is the harmful effect of believing that, because you have a mental illness, that means your chances to succeed life is not plausible. I have fallen victim to this for many years on this journey. I lost so many years that I will never get back because I believed the lie—that succeeding was out of the question. 

When I finally got back on track, I have proved this theory wrong. I went back to school and finished one degree, then began to work on a second. I started writing full-time to including a screenplay/novel. My blog The Bipolar Writer, has become a safe place where other writers with mental illness can call home. I have found my place within mental illness, and it was only possible when I started to fight the stigma. One thing that I have found that has perpetuated the mental illness stigma is the lack of knowledge and resources available to families. 

For my own family, it was very hard at the beginning of my mental illness journey. When I attempted suicide, it threw my family for a loop. The understanding that my family and friends have now come from trials, errors, and a lot of suffering. I honestly believe if I would have given in and admitted early that my mental illness was real, it could have saved myself some lost years. On the other hand, my struggles, including those lost years made me who I am today. 

There are other areas that the mental illness stigma can hurt sufferers. One area I see issues with, is bullying. When there is lack of understanding, it can lead to bullying of those that are open about talking about mental health. Work life can be affected, where your options can be limited because of the stigma. There is a lot of self-doubts and personal shame that comes along with a mental illness, and it affects how you do socially in work, school, and in your social life. 

I have talked about the dangerous parts of the stigma surrounding mental illness, but there is another side—finding ways to cope when the stigma is there in your life. The biggest thing you can do is seek help. It sounds simple, but the truth is it can be hard to admit something is wrong. I can tell you, getting treatment and believing in that treatment is the best way to tackle the stigma. In my experience, personal therapy and writing helped me overcome the stigma. 

On my blog, I often get inquiries from teens and young adults about if he/she should talk to an adult about seeking help. I tell them every time that the answer is yes. Mental illness is a growing issue as we continue to put our entire lives on social media it can have adverse effects on how people view mental illness.  The main thing that I see is that those talking about mental health are only doing it to seek attention, and that is dangerous.

There are other important things can help you fight the stigma. First, believe in yourself. Your illness does not define who you are in this world. Yes, it is a part of you, but that is something you can overcome. What some experts will tell you to say is instead of “I am Bipolar” you can say “I have Bipolar Disorder.” This is good, but I like saying that “I am The Bipolar Writer.” I am not ashamed at all, but I believe you find what works for you. 

One area where stigma comes to play in my own life, is isolation. It is essential for someone dealing with a mental illness to resist isolation. When it comes to social anxiety for me, this is a significant issue. It can become an easy thing to just hide away from the world, I have done it a lot in this journey. That only further hurts you, and it can make the stigma in your mind grow. A way to keep from isolating is to join mental illness support groups online or group therapy. Find a coffee shop and say hello to one person. I have met some amazing people simply by saying hello. 

The last thing I want to share to honestly cope with the stigma, is to speak out. Become an advocate. Write about your experiences, if you are ready. Get the knowledge out there for those who are just beginning their mental illness journey. When you share your experience, as every mental illness story is unique, it means that we are coming closer to getting others to understand what we live through each day.

I once let the stigma of mental illness run my life. I became a lifeless and hopeless wreck that was allowing life to pass me by. I could not see what was up or down. I lost so many people in my life because living was so hard. Eventually, I gave up, three times I was almost not a part of this world. 

Life is a funny thing. I went through the worst and best parts of my mental illness. I am lucky to be alive and to have the ability to wake each morning. I have no idea how many more days, weeks, months, or even years I have left. I plan on making the most of the time. Always keep fighting the stigma. 

Always Keep Fighting

James

You can visit the author site of James Edgar Skye here.

Purchase The Bipolar Writer: A Memoir here.

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Photo by Francois Hoang on Unsplash

Vaping & Anxiety – My Experience

I want to preface this blog post with this, the choice to use vaping as a tool for my anxiety was a personal choice and one that I made for myself. I am not saying that vaping is the answer to all my problems or that it is any better than smoking. Instead, I will explain how vaping has helped curb some of my anxiety, especially at night.

Back in May, my anxiety was at an all-time high. I was looking for ideas on how to get through some of my night-time anxiety. A fellow blogger and mental health advocate talked about how she used non-nicotine vaping as a way to help her anxiety. She explained that there are so many types of vape pens out there, and some have nicotine, and others have none. It was a personal choice for her to use one without nicotine, and it was helping her anxiety immensely.

I talked to a friend about it, and she told me about one that she uses that is also helpful. As I have expressed on this blog, I quit smoking several years ago, and I used smoking as a coping mechanism to combat anxiety. It really sucked, and I have only seen my anxiety increase since I decided to quit smoking. It was the right decision, but I knew eventually there was a possibility I would go back to smoking.

I did my research, and I found some vape pens that have no nicotine and some that just a bit of nicotine–and I decided on a pen that had some and I bought it hoping for the best. So far, my experience has been a good one, and during some of my panic attacks at night, using my vape pen has helped me get through some tough nights. I do use it throughout the day, which is also helpful. I have seen a curb in my anxiety since about June of this year.

I am not saying for you to go out and get a vape pen means you will no longer have anxiety. With the pressures of graduate school, writing my book, and my freelance work it helps to have something to turn to when my anxiety spirals. It is not a cure-all, and I am working on reducing anxiety and depression with working on my sleep. Vaping is just something I have found that works for me, and I am always honest here on my blog about my experiences. If you go down that route, do some research, and make a decision for yourself. Stay strong in the fight.

Always Keep Fighting

James

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My First Time Dining Out in a Year

So, I don’t dine out. The last time was a year ago when I moved to my new place (which by the way, I have been here for exactly a year.) We celebrated the move, but I felt anxious and on the edge of a panic attack. It sucked.

I decided no more dinner out, and I eat in when I am hungry or eat food here. I still go to coffee shops and breakfast at the place that I have been to forever, and the crowds are less when I decide to go.

Today I took a leap and considering that I have a ton of summer plans it is better to get it out of the way now before things are busy again in my life. So I went to dinner to celebrate some family leaving town that was here for a couple of weeks. I was okay at first, and it is always important that I get my water so it is there and its the first mental hurdle when I am out dining. It took longer than I would have liked but, it is not like I can control the waiting staff.

I took my Clonazepam at my regular time at 1pm, but I knew there was a chance I would need it sooner and halfway through dinner I needed it because I could feel the panic rising. I was able to calmly go to my car and take my dosage at 7:45pm which was sooner than the 9pm that I need, but it should last me until early morning which fine.

One issue that I have is a deep seeded fear that I will have a panic attack in the middle of a crowded place, and this was a very crowded restaurant. Crowds are just another issue to go along with my panic disorder issues. I usually eat in, or order take-out preferring the comforts of home. For the last year I have turned down dozens of dinner invites, and most of my limited amount of friends do not ask me to go places anymore.

I have created this world of fear of going out, but I have been feeling left out, and it is easy to blame my mental illness, but there come a time and place where you have to find the courage and figure out what the causes.

For so long now I have hidden in my safe places like coffee shops or the place where I always eat breakfast every three to four months with my best friend. Crowds scare me, and they used to not be that way. I used to go to concerts and hang out with friends. But that was 20 years old me and before I knew about depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. The knowing, and actually experiencing having a panic attack in the middle of a crowd I have some basis for that fear.

Tonight I just got by, and I was lucky everyone was a quick eater. I want to live again. I have plans after graduate school, and that means this summer I have to take the help that I was given and get my recovery moving forward with my panic disorder, because like is passing me by. I am going to be a published author this summer. Things are good, but I need to take this next step in the process. More to come as always.

Always Keep Fighting

James

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Different Types of Panic Attacks

This is not a scientific post. There are no references cited. This is solely based on my own experiences. Depending on my mood, emotions, and sensory stimuli, I never have the same kind of panic attacks. There are many factors that combine to bring on an attack. There are other instances where the same situation causes no panic. It’s unpredictable. Even which kind of attack I will have is unpredictable. I have identified three kinds of attacks I’ve had, each one a different form of panic. There could be more, but these are mine.

Normal Apprehension as Panic

These are the normal things that cause anxiety for anyone. Things like stage freight and public speaking, talking to your crush for the first time, or doing anything for the first time. On occasion, I get so worked up I can’t do the thing. Sometimes, forcing myself to keep going works and I get stuff done. This doesn’t always work, and I abandon all hope until the next time around. Not everyone has issues with this sort of anxiety, but those of us with anxiety disorders struggle a little more than others. This is the easiest type of panic from which to come down and doesn’t ruin your day.

Fear as Panic

Anyone who feels their life is in danger will have a slight panic attack. This is a normal reaction to danger. What do you do when you’re lying in bed, nothing is happening, and your heart starts racing? What do you do when you feel like you’re in danger, but there’s no danger around you? This type of panic attack is the most unpredictable because it can happen anywhere, anytime, and with no probable cause. This is also the most difficult panic attack to get over. I think it’s because the lack of a cause creates more anxiety.

Anger as Panic

This is the one I struggle with the most. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s never fun when it does. Usually, when my senses are overwhelmed, and I have less control than I’d like, I get frustrated. When this happens, I have to move around and handle things within my control to calm down. When I can’t do this, and I feel things are not being done the way they should, I get angry. I snap at others or have an attitude when I don’t need one. It used to be a lot worse, but as long as I don’t allow myself to get frustrated, I can avoid this kind of panic.

With all three of these panic attacks, I have the same symptoms; pounding chest, the shakes, irritability, and the need to avoid all humans. Sometimes the attack and symptoms last a few minutes where other times they can last for hours. I’m still learning about mine and figuring out how to avoid having them. I try to avoid stressful situations. Easier said than done. If I can’t avoid them, I focus on things I can control, even if all I do is rearrange furniture. It keeps me focused and I can avoid getting too angry or having to leave to catch my breath.

Social Anxiety: Earning My “I Voted” Sticker

Several years ago, it became hard to go into public places without using the “buddy system.” I’m not exactly sure why this happened but I believe it stemmed from years of infertility and the self-hatred that grew during that time. By doubting my body’s ability to do something as simple as procreating, I became fearful of every tick and click inside. The fear took over like an avalanche. One day, I stood in line at Old Navy and started to hyperventilate– my palms were wet, the world moved in slow motion, and the exit was all I wanted. The feeling consumed me and avoidance behavior became my warm fuzzy blanket.

I allowed this to be “okay” for almost a decade. During this time there were several elections that I wanted to vote in. The last time I voted in-person was when Barack Obama first took office. Four years later, there were important issues I wanted to vote on as well as the presidential candidates. When the day arrived, I psyched myself up to go but when push came to shove, I couldn’t go through with it. The trouble with social anxiety and voting places are the long lines, one way in and one way out, and I swear the temperature is always overly warm. I didn’t even make it to the parking lot. I missed casting my vote because avoidance behavior was so normal, breaking the mold out of nowhere was impossible.

When the Trump/Clinton election arrived, the political environment was on fire and leaked into everyday conversation on social media and in person. Feeling guilty for not casting my vote previously, I told myself I would vote no matter what it took. I had not started therapy at this time but was aware that my condition was not getting better. I’m ashamed to say that while I did vote, I cast an absentee ballot and voted through the mail. At the time it felt good. I had accomplished what I set out to do. I voted, even if no one handed me a sticker. The truth is, while one goal was met, another was not. I was losing the war against social anxiety.

The absentee ballot is what it took to get angry. The fire had been burning before but not like this. I let it simmer for another year before I sought out therapy again. I say again because I had tried in the past with no success. I felt my options were limited; therapy seemed to be what held me accountable for making progress.

Finding the right therapist is not easy. It is not easy. It’s like searching for a new best friend; it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time. With luck and determination, I found Amy with her “no shame zone” which allowed me to open up and dig deep. I don’t always agree with her, but I do listen. I can’t ignore the progress I have made while working with her. It’s a partnership I am thankful for and I have no plans to stop seeing her.

I earned the “I Voted” sticker this past Election Day. Yes, of course, I waited until the booths were almost closed; all day my stomach knotted, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the lines of people I would encounter. I live in a small town, so the idea of hundreds of people lining up around the building is a pretty ridiculous– chalk it up to anxiety and over- thinking. Driving two miles to the local high school took less time than I had hoped. The parking lot was full of people and cars in motion which heightened my nerves. I sucked in two deep breaths and heaved myself out of the car. Inside there were no lines, just friendly people taking my information and showing how the ballot worked. I was prepared with a copy of the ballot which I filled out at home in case I forgot something. Stressful situations can make me forget even the most ingrained memories. I filled everything out and fed the machine my vote. On the way out, a very sweet lady gave me my sticker.

It’s stupid how free I felt; tears pricked my eyes and I walked out of there with a grin I couldn’t erase. I did it. I exercised my right as an American citizen to vote. I took another step toward healing and overcoming anxiety. Some steps are so small they are hardly noticeable. Then there are bigger steps like facing one of my triggers head on and walking away stronger. I am climbing a mountain with my bare hands and making progress. I can do this and I know there is so much more I am capable of.

Photo credit: Selfie. That’s me with my badge of honor. Fingers to Sky!