Why We Should Share Our Mental Health Stories

OVER THE COURSE OF WRITING my blog I have shared so much of my experiences before and after my diagnosis in 2007. It has been the most therapeutic experience in my life. I never thought I could tell my story.  In the past week I have started to begin the process of expanding The Bipolar Writer into sharing other people’s stories.

I understand that not everyone is in a place where they can share their story, but when you are ready you should. I think the best thing I did in 2017, was find my place in my blog where I can write about my life. But beyond that, I never imagined that the therapeutic process of blogging my mental illness life could have so many positives. 

The other part of sharing my story, and that is it helps take away the negative stigma that comes with having a mental illness. I used to believe that being Bipolar is a bad thing. But writing my screenplay, my blog, and now my memoir has given me a new perspective on the stigma. I believe through shared stories it changes the narrative.

What I have learned from my fellow bloggers is there are so many likeminded people that want to share their story. We all have our own unique perspective to share within the mental illness community. I can share my story and it may parallel your own, but you have something to add because you went a different route in your mental illness.

I can’t imagine giving up my blog, because I have met so many amazing bloggers along the way that can empathize with my own plight. I think together, we can work towards changing how people who have never been in our shoes look at us. One word at time.

James

Always Keep Fighting

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

Purchase The Bipolar Writer: A Memoir here.

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Picture: Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Depression Survival Tools and Tricks, Part II

I am glad to share with you today, 5 more helps for enduring severe depression.  These are things I learned during my deepest and darkest depression–the hardest thing I’ve had to endure so far in my life.

I have learned that small changes, practiced consistently can reap large dividends.  This has been my experience.  Though simple, I hope you will find these helpful.

Have a routine.  My mind felt so mixed up when I was in the worst of my depression.  Extreme emotional pain, and darkness made it difficult for me to function, but I had children to care for and somehow I also had to make sure that I cared for myself.

I soon learned that having a routine for my daily activities had a calming effect on me.  Prior to learning this, I felt almost constantly frantic on top of the depression, because I felt like I had so much to do and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it all.  So I did, roughly, the same sequence of events each day.  I would try to focus only on what I was doing, to prevent my thoughts from going wild, and me getting overwhelmed with all of my daily tasks. A key part of this routine was time spent doing activities that calmed my mind.  This is an essential component.  I encourage you to try it.  I still find calmness in keeping a daily routine.

Know your needs.  Having severe depression forced me to get to know myself in a way I never had before.  I quickly learned what activities and circumstances increased my pain and what alleviated it.  I had to really be sensitive to my own thoughts and feelings in order to learn this.  This was a challenge at first but I can say now that it is one of my greatest strengths.

In the beginning, I realized that I had a bad habit of ignoring my own thoughts and feelings as they pertained to my needs.  If I was tired, I would keep going.  If I didn’t like a situation, I would forget my feelings, if it meant it would make someone else more comfortable.  But this kind of self-neglect is not consistent with the kind of self-care and love needed to heal through depression.  So I learned to really listen to my own inner voice and act on what I felt.

Here’s what I learned, as I got to know my self and my needs:  I am an introvert.  I need a lot of quiet time to unwind.  I love to read.  I need time to reflect and ponder on ideas I’m learning about.  I get tired out by social situations and need to recharge afterward by being alone.  I need a more open schedule, with lots of down time to stay well.  These are all things I had no clue about, until I had to live through this period of severe depression.

So, take time to get to know you.  Listen to your inner voice and act on it.  Although I am still working on this, I have come a long way and it was been a key force in helping me get through my depression.  Give yourself what you need.

Be open about your struggle.  I acknowledge that it is usually a process of time before one feels like they can get to this point of sharing.  It took me years before I openly began to talk about this with others, but I can’t say enough how much this has helped me.

If you consider how many thousands of people suffer with mental illness in the world, it is very likely that there are those in your acquaintance who are intimately familiar with the struggle.  When I began to share, I learned how many of my friends had suffered at one time or another with mental illness.  I learned that I was not alone.

I have been so grateful to have friends approach me to talk about their struggles because they knew I was safe to talk to.  They knew that I had struggled and would understand.  This has meant the world to me.

Now I am openly sharing the darkest and scariest moments of my history for all the world to see and even posted it on facebook for all to read.  I’d be lying if I said this doesn’t scare me, because it does.  But I want to be a voice of hope and an active part in ending the stigma associated with mental illness, so I push past my fear and let the chips fall where they may.

You may not be here, yet.  And that is ok.  But maybe consider sharing with a trusted friend what you are going through.  Sharing can help us and others realize that we are not alone.

Find happiness and joy in moments.  I naively used to think that I should feel happy and ready to take on the world all the time.  This is a false idea.  Life is only complete with ups and downs–you can’t have one without the other.  I learned a better way to approach life when I was wading through deep depression and that is this: Happiness and joy are found in moments.  To me this means that I can stop expecting to feel good all the time and I can stop trying to make that happen.

Instead, I can create and enjoy moments that make me happy.  For me, this is time with my children–where we are talking or reading a book or enjoying a family event.  This is also moments I have alone, or time in the beauties of nature.  This is time with my husband when we don’t have to stress about anything.  When my depression was really bad, this took a lot of effort and focus.  I had to really try and relax and find a moment that I could enjoy.  It wasn’t even really that enjoyable at the time.  However, it helped me to recognize my need to find those moments and enjoy them.  I need to create these moments in my life.  I need to actively do this, because otherwise life starts to get really mundane and dull and this can swiftly start things spiraling back down into depression.

So, instead of wishing for the end of depression and return of happiness, find or create a moment that will help you feel that.  Make it a habit of your life to do this and you will start to find greater happiness in life.

Accept the present reality.  This is a hard one.  We all want to get better!  I remember wanting this so badly!  No one wants to live with mental illness.  It is not a desirable situation.  I really was hoping for a quick fix, or even a quicker fix would have been nice.  But that was not to be for me.  What happened was a very long, desperate struggle.

On top of my depression symptoms I was discouraged, I was struggling with feeling hopeless.  I was unhappy about my situation and feeling sorry for myself.  I couldn’t control my depression, but I could certainly control feeling sorry for myself and how I was wishing my circumstances away.  I finally got to a point where I started to ask myself, “What if I feel this way for the rest of my life?”  I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life making myself miserable on top of being depressed.  So I made a decision that I was going to try my best to be happy, in spite of the hand that I had been dealt.

I didn’t feel happy in the traditional sense, but I had peace.  I accepted that this is where I was and maybe where I would be for a really long time.  I had to make the best of it.  Depression was still intense and still very difficult, but I had peace.  I found joy in moments and little by little things got better.

What about you? What have you learned from having mental illness?  What advice would you give to someone else who is struggling?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

To Be(er), Or Not To Be(er)

“Please Drink Responsibly” is the phrase slapped across every product you must be twenty-one years of age to purchase in the United States. Alcohol has been, is, and always will be one of the most controversial matters in history for many reasons. Our grandfathers’ fathers made it hidden in the south eastern mountains to provide for their families in the most lucrative way they could. A tradition has been made out of its’ recipes and stories of bootlegging and prohibition. It’s the one thing that even the United States government couldn’t stop.

As with anything however, where there are pros, there are cons. As with anything, if enjoyed in excess there are many debilitating effects it can cause on your health and the health of others. Poor judgements and decisions are made which can impact many people for the rest of their lives. If you live just below the Bible belt as I do, don’t be surprised if some mega church preacher attempts to release you from the grasp of the Devils’ nectar as he lovingly embraces you while reaching for your wallet and groping every square inch of your wife with his eyes.

The point I am trying to make is that we live in a society that welcomes the use of alcohol like an old family friend. It’s as American as apple pie, baseball, McDonald’s, and this messed up obsession we all have over reality television. So if no one else seems to have a problem, and it all just is a natural part of life, do I really have as big of a problem as I think I do?

If you have followed me or my blog for any amount of time, you may have stumbled across my introduction or several works about alcohol and my battle with the bottle. Today I want to give you a little background about it, as the subject weighs heavily on my mind lately. I have been drinking since I was fourteen years old. It started out as simply as it typically would. Tall bottles of Smirnoff Ice which eventually led my curious tongue to tall cans of malt liquor. I drank A LOT of gut rot, gas station specials as an early teenager such as Steel Reserve 211 and the likes, until I finally calmed down into normal domestic beers.

At around the age of eighteen I began to indulge in liquor. Trying a little bit of anything I could get my hands on, I quickly discovered that vodka and gin were two of my least favorite liquors. As stereotypical as it will sound, I was a bourbon guy through and through just like my father. The smoky taste, the warm burn of eighty proof tingling down your throat, and that decadent smell of oak as it swirled around in my glass could make my mouth water with every sip. I had made it my mission to become a connoisseur of bottom shelf bourbon. Even when I moved out on my own, the only things I had to my name were a few pots and pans, a record player, a futon mattress, and most importantly… a bottle of rye whisky.

It wasn’t until last year in September that a panic attack made me really look at myself and question my life. Once I began my journey for better mental health, I realized I was using the alcohol to self medicate my anxieties and possibly even some of my bipolar tendencies when I look back in retrospect. I made a lot of changes to my lifestyle with help from my wife. I decided to not keep beer in the apartment we share and she agrees because she feels it’s a waste of money. We agree to only drink when we go to restaurants or concerts and I stopped buying liquor all together because if it’s in my reach, I will drink it.

It’s not uncommon for me to become my own worst enemy. I am my worst critic, my worst judge of character, and the last person I ever want to have to confront. Lately if I’m out somewhere and decide to have a beer, I look at myself in shame and feel regret over my decision. I feel as though I’m letting myself down and even you down. Even though I don’t drink for the same reason anymore, enjoying one beer throws so many questions into my mind, it almost makes me wonder if it’s worth it. On the other hand, I’m not drinking for the same reason anymore. I enjoy beer as a craft and a beverage. Taking barley and hops and creating a flavorful masterpiece is a skill I am honestly envious of. There are so many good things about beer that go far beyond alcohol content.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has a situation that is different. I am not writing this to sway someone who is struggling with addiction to drink. If you are someone who is on the fence, I encourage you to please take the plunge and reach out to your local alcoholics anonymous program or outpatient rehabilitation center. What I am writing this for is to tell my story and to pose a question to my friends, the readers.

With the habits I continue to follow, I find myself wondering if I really have as big of a problem as I think I do. Am I more in control than I realize? Am I blowing this entirely out of proportion? If no one else seems to have an issue, then what is my problem? I am fine with not buying liquor, but am I wrong if I buy beer from time to time? What are your thoughts, and do you struggle this as well?

Introduction

If you have ever ridden a roller coaster, you understand the excitement and fear that courses through your mind and body as you burst through the track. You experience such an intense jolt of so many emotions as your breath is stolen from falling and you only have enough time to take another breath as you ascend. In a lot of ways, bipolar disorder seems to share many similarities. It seems to change a person drastically in mere moments and can even span episodes for days at a time. You never know how you will feel when you wake up in the morning. You never know what will happen to send you spiraling into a depressive episode. I often like to call it a “Jekyll and Hyde” effect in my personal blog.

I am Shelton Fisher and recently I have been given the privilege to be a contributing writer for The Bipolar Writer. I am a 25 year old with a full time job, an amazing wife, and the two best dogs in the world. I used to be a decent musician and writing has become a passion of mine. Amid the wonderful things that life has provided for me, I have mental health issues that fight me tooth and nail on a regular basis. Anxiety has been a familiar part of my life since I was a child, but alcoholism and panic attacks made me realize that I needed to finally address these problem medically. In September of last year I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and began a regimen of serotonin inhibitors and recently I have began seeing a therapist. After several sessions addressing my childhood behaviors and my current behaviors, we have discussed that I may be bipolar and the symptoms honestly surprised me.

As I continue the journey into my mental health to confirm a diagnosis and discover how to live a better life, I want to include you through personal stories, free verse poetry, and the occasional informative post. I am not a professional by any means, but I am living proof that mental health is a war to be won. If you have ever been afraid to speak, afraid to make a move, lost motivation and hope, hurt yourself because you couldn’t find the right words or felt trapped inside your body, screamed at the top of your lungs with tears rolling down your boiling red cheeks, self medicated with alcohol or drugs, fallen into depression for no apparent reason, or just want to know how I am handling things, my posts are for you.

Stigma – A Skewed Perception

Many people have a skewed perception of what mental illness is. This skewed perception comes from people making generalized and uneducated statements about mental illness. Negative terms are used to describe or make fun of people with mental illness. People use mental illness related terms to describe someone or something in a negative and belittling way. For example, “She is so bipolar.” This demeans mental illness and the people who live with it. This is stigma.

Stigma is a mark of disgrace and shame associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Stigma causes people who live with a mental illness to be biased, shamed and  discriminated against for an illness they never wanted to have. Mental illness has nothing to do with a person’s character, or determination, yet people are blamed for getting the illness and not being able to make it go away.

Getting a  mental illness diagnosis is forever life changing. Living with a mental illness is daunting and debilitating. Learning to cope with the symptoms of mental illness become a life-long struggle. Facing the stigma related to mental illness is degrading and instills shame and fear hindering many people’s wellness and treatment.

Imagine finding out you have a chronic illness. Besides just having to live with the struggles and pain of having a severe illness you also have to face the daily stigma associated with the name of your illness. You are scrutinized, belittled, discriminated and shamed for the type of illness you have. My ex-husband and his wife called me names repeatedly telling me I was a horrible mother, a loser and I was crazy (and worse things) just because of the name of my illness.

They tried to take my children away from me for over thirteen years until my children turned eighteen. I went to court repeatedly to fight my ex-husband for custody because of the name of my illness. I had to spend money I didn’t have on court fees just because of the name of my illness. I had to prove I was a better mother than most just because of the name of my illness. As hard as they tried they never won. They lost every time, but I had to live with their cruelty, nastiness and the trauma of going to court to defend myself and the illness I have only because of the name of my illness.

The name of my primary mental illness is bipolar 1 disorder and I also live with generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD. I must live with the stigma related to the fact that I am a numerous suicide attempt survivor. As debilitating as my mental illnesses are and have been, stigma became another destructive illness I had to face and live with every day and continue to live with today.

I was fired from a special education teaching position and am no longer able to teach in the area I live because of the name of my illness. I won a wrongful termination suit and the school attorney admitted that school districts do not want teachers who have severe mental illness in their schools because parents do not want teachers teaching their children who have a mental illness. The money I won was only a band-aide because the humiliation, shame, pain and the damage was already done.

Cut stigma out of our lives.

may 9

Stigma needs to stop yesterday. We can help end stigma by educating others. One way to educate others is by telling our stories. There is a ripple effect that occurs after one person shares their story. One person shares and then another person says #Icantoo. They share too and it continues until everyone is sharing their stories about  mental illness and soon conversations about mental illness become the norm and accepted as a good dialog and conversation.  Soon mental illness will not need to be feared or shamed.

The ripple effect will turn into waves of glory.

I think it is imperative that we aren’t afraid to share our stories. If we have fear and shame of ourselves and our own stories than we become part of the stigma. When we are uncomfortable with our own illness and story, how can we expect others to be comfortable with us. Each time we share our story it becomes easier to tell. Each time we read a story it helps us know we are not alone.

I started my campaign to find ways to get people to share their stories. I even said they did not have to disclose their names because just sharing your story is very freeing. It is a great release to share what you may be afraid to disclose.

We will never end the stigma if we do not stop being part of the stigma. I understand the fear of not disclosing stems from stigma. This has become a vicious cycle that we need to break. Just start out by sharing a little at a time and I promise you it will get easier and will be a very integral part of your recovery.

For those of you that have already shared your stories on my blog, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I greatly appreciate all of you.

I appreciate all of you who are still reading.

We celebrate all of you.

Please join my campaign.

Be a part of the solution to end stigma.

Share your beautiful story and help change lives.

“There’s Glory in Sharing Your Story”

Your story is an account of past events in your life.

Your Glory is something that secures praise,

 worshipful praise, honor, and thanksgiving,

a distinguished quality or asset,

great beauty and splendor,

magnificence and a height of prosperity or achievement.

“There’s no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~Maya Angelou

No matter what your story is,

you should be praised and honored for sharing your story,

for surviving the life you live,

and for the amazing person you are.

You need to be celebrated and I want to celebrate you.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

and in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month

I want to celebrate you by sharing your story on my blog.

During the month of May my goal is to share one story per day.

I will share more stories after May as often as I get them.

Please let me know if you are interested.

Here is a link for the directions and suggestions on writing your story.

When we share our stories it’s an opportunity to educate about mental illness, reduce stigma, reduce fear and reduce shame.  It teaches people what it is like to live with a mental illness.

When we share our stories, we show our support of others who may be going through similar struggles. It allows others to see that they are not alone.  We can share advice, suggestions and examples of what helped us the most to achieve recovery. Sharing our stories is very therapeutic for ourselves.

Sharing our stories will help more people feel comfortable about mental illness. It will fire up the conversations about mental health, which will ultimately help end stigma.

By sharing our stories we can be an inspiration to others to never give up. We can be an example of courage, strength, survival, perseverance and resiliency. By sharing our own stories we can help end stigma and save lives.

Let’s celebrate each other.

Please reblog this to get the word out

so we can all share and read more glorious stories.

stigma free

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