My name is Julio, as some of you already know. I am the person behind the creation of this project. Why do I want you to know that?
I had lunch, recently, with a friend who asked if I was apprehensive about my employer and others knowing about how I have struggled with depression and anxiety. I thought about it, and the answer is no.
I hid my depression and anxiety for so long because I didn’t want to talk about it. Talking about it was too much of a risk. I was afraid of being labeled and being treated differently.
But, truthfully, I am a much better person now that I have chosen to open up and face my struggle with depression head on. I am very proud of how much I have accomplished since I opened up and asked for help. I am a better family man and a better friend because of my decision to reveal what I was dealing with and to look for the help I needed to begin to heal.
I understand why people are afraid to talk about mental illness. I’ve certainly been in that position. But unless we do something to break the stigma, we’ll continue to struggle. Sharing our experiences with mental illness is a place to start.
I’ve been fortunate to meet many people throughout my journey who have felt comfortable sharing their own stories. Many have expressed thanks to me for creating this project, and I very humbly thank them in return. I recognize that some of those people are actually in the same position that I was in some months ago; afraid to open up about the issues they face due to the prejudices that society can hold towards mental illness.
My walls are down and my purpose now is to bring more awareness to mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it. In the words of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
|By Julio||As children, we often have someone that we connect with in an extra special way. Many times it’s a parent, but for me it was my uncle Marcos. He gave me lots of love and attention. When he came to visit, he would bring pizza, my favorite! Sometimes, he would take me out for a gigantic banana split. It brought him great joy to see me eating my favorite foods and having such a good time. I loved him very much, and I wanted to be just like him.
About twenty years ago, while living in St Cloud, MN, I received a phone call from my parents. They told me that my beloved uncle Marcos had passed away two months earlier. They said that he had been driving drunk and his car had gone off a bridge, killing him instantly. I was devastated by this news, and I was confused as to why my family had waited so long to tell me of my uncle’s passing. When I asked about that, they just said they hadn’t wanted to bother me with the news since I had just moved to the United States. I didn’t understand their logic, but I didn’t question them.
Twelve years later, my mom came to visit my family in the United States. As we were driving around the city one day discussing family and friends, she mentioned how tragic it was that my uncle Marcos had taken his own life all those years ago. I gave my mom a stunned look, and she realized immediately that she had just revealed something that they had always tried to hide from me. I became angry and demanded to know why I hadn’t been told the truth about my uncle’s death. She said that my dad forbid the family to tell me the truth. I know that he was trying to “soften” my devastation since I had been so close to Uncle Marcos. However, I also feel that they were trying to cover up the suicide because it was perceived as a family embarrassment.
It was not until 2010, when I had returned to Costa Rica for my father’s funeral, that I learned the actual circumstances that lead to my uncle’s death. Another relative told me that my uncle Marcos had been depressed for years. He had indeed been involved in a car crash where he was drinking and driving, however it was his best friend who had been killed. This tragic event was something my uncle was unable to overcome, and he subsequently took his own life. I was not privy to this information for over twenty years because my family wanted to hide the truth rather than face it.
No one ever knew how much pain my uncle carried inside. I’m certain that no one ever asked him. I know the culture, and I know that he wouldn’t have been able to talk about his depression with anyone.
Ultimately, it wouldn’t have made a difference if he were here or in Costa Rica. Neither culture encourages men to show their emotions. And to speak of depression, or any sort of mental illness, is often perceived as a sign of weakness. How often after someone commits suicide do we hear “we had no idea that person suffered from depression”? That’s just not acceptable. We should have known. Maybe we could have helped.
I’ll never see my uncle again, never give him a hug and tell him how much he meant to me. But the truth of his life, as I now know it, strengthens my conviction to move forth on this project, sharing the message of the importance of breaking the stigma that surrounds mental illness.
|By Tony||Here’s a little something you maybe didn’t know about me… I’ve been thinking about this often the past few days…to be honest, seldom a day goes by where I don’t think of March 11th, 2004… 10 years ago today. I was planning to go to the hospital to pick a treatment center to check myself into, but I never made it there. I put the rest of my drugs down my throat and blacked out…
I woke up crying in an emergency room after a drug overdose. Police found me on the wrong side of the road in my truck, foot on the brake, slumped over the wheel, not breathing. I don’t remember getting into my truck, I don’t remember riding in the ambulance, all I remember is briefly coming to in the hospital and having people yelling, “you need to tell us what you’re on or you’re gonna die…” I was kept alive that day, but in my eyes I really wasn’t alive. I was at a point in my life where I felt completely hopeless, sad, angry, and I didn’t want to be here anymore. Struggling with addiction, depression, anxiety, self image/body image issues, obesity, low self esteem…the same things many people deal with everyday. I had to make the hardest decision of my life that day, if I was gonna fight to become alive, or if I was going to let myself die, because that’s where I was going, fast…
I chose life, I chose to fight, I chose to get help. I knew one thing, and that was that I never wanted to feel like that ever again… It’s been 10 years since that day, it has not been easy… I’ve come so far but I’m nowhere yet near where I plan to go. I never thought back then that I’d be able to turn my life around the way I have…I have great family and friends who never gave up on me when they easily could have and I have a great career. I’ve accomplished things I’d never deemed possible. I have have my best friend, my beautiful wife, and since I met her, she has brought me from what I thought was “doing really good,” to becoming “alive.” I am alive now… I AM ALIVE!!!
We all have dreams, my dream was to be truly happy and have a purpose. 10 years later, at the young age of 32, I can tell you I am truly happy and now I know my purpose. Never give up, you can make your dreams a reality, you can beat anything, I did. Though I’m still a work in progress… The hard times of our past, no matter how hard, can make for a very sweet future…because of things I’ve been through, I’m so grateful and blessed for the life I have now. For anyone struggling out there or if you know someone who is, just know that it can be turned around…it’s okay to get help, it’s okay to want to feel better, it’s okay to be scared…you’re not alone. But you need to want it more than anything, you need to dig deep and fight, and you need to help you help yourself. There’s always HOPE, there’s always a way. You can become alive, that I promise you. I’m not ashamed of myself for being an addict, my past has turned me into the person I am today, I’m just proud that I had the courage to fight my demons. I still have struggles and I still have demons, but now I know that I’m strong enough to handle anything that life throws my way. The bravest thing I’ve ever done was continuing my life when I wanted to die.
|By Laura||Depression runs heavily on both sides of my family-mother and father and their ancestors. There were some suicides on my mom’s side and when I mentioned that to a psychologist I used to see, she said that often times, suicides in the “olden days” were traced back to incest. While that wasn’t the case with my sisters and me, it does reinforce that our upbringing does affect us for our entire lives. There is also the actual chemical component, meaning someone with mental health issues doesn’t produce enough dopamine naturally to feel “normal.” (whatever normal is- “Normal is a cycle on the washing machine.”) We have both the chemical and heredity/upbringing issues in my family and both of my sisters and I are being treated for depression. I have had anxiety issues for years-when I was 20 years old, my dentist told me that I had the teeth of a 50-year-old because I worried so much that I ground the hell out of my teeth, even in my sleep.
I found some relief from anxiety by reading a book called “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie. It was originally published in 1948 and while that was quite a long time ago, I found the concepts to be useful even in current times. I have accepted that I will always have some anxiety, but was happy to learn that I have the tools to keep it manageable. That’s the thing with mental health issues: having them doesn’t have to mean you have to have a miserable life. I think a lot of it boils down to knowing that even if there is no cure, it is treatable and a person just has to keep trying until they find what works for them. For some, it’s taking part in activities that naturally raise endorphins and dopamine. For many, it’s medication. Often, it’s a combination of both. Therapy can work wonders, but sometimes it takes a while to find the right therapist and it’s easy to just want to give up along the way, when you don’t find them with the first or second or even third therapist. Again, the key is to keep trying and I think that point is very well made in this gentlemen’s email that you sent. It’s not easy, it will always be a struggle, but it doesn’t have to be all encompassing. It can be managed.
Having a support system is crucial and I feel very fortunate to have a good one. I have a few really good friends who have truly “been there” for me in both good days and horrible days. Believe it or not, I consider your kids to be a HUGE support to me, even if they don’t know they are. When I’m around them, I concentrate on them and their interests and I have learned so much from them and from watching them grow. I don’t know if you knew this or not, but I never had that maternal instinct which most women have. Neither of my sisters had it either. I didn’t want children and while I sometimes regret that decision, it was the right one for me at the time. I was afraid I would let my mental health issues interfere with parenting and I was afraid I would do more harm than good. And talk about worrying-OMG! I worried myself right out of having kids. I worried about absolutely EVERYTHING. But when I met your children, well, I realized that while there is a lot of hard work involved, there is so much enjoyment to be experienced, just by helping them and watching how they deal with life.
I want you to know that I truly admire what you are doing for raising awareness, especially for men, regarding mental health. The topic carries such stigma, even in this day and age when we know so much more about mental health than they ever did in the past. And unless someone experiences depression or anxiety or any other mental health issue, well, it’s hard for them to TRULY UNDERSTAND how a person can be absolutely depressed and empty inside when they look like they have so much going for them. Why we feel that way when we shouldn’t will always be baffling. But having experienced that and the desperation with wanting to be happy but having absolutely no energy to do what I need to do to be happy, I do “get it.” Sometimes, there is just no answer to the question of “Why?” Again, for those who haven’t experienced those feelings, they can’t fathom the pain.
I have also been on the “other side” of the equation, especially where my sister is concerned. When someone is absolutely in the depths of depression, all the “supporter” want to do is help. I have so often tried to help by giving her advice, giving her money, giving her opportunities to express herself, etc. It is human nature to want to help. As supporters, we want nothing more than to relieve our loved ones of their stress and sadness. That’s why it can be so frustrating for supporters, because we ache for the person, and want so badly to help. Sometimes, even though I suffer from depression myself, I just want to throttle my sister and tell her to “Snap out of it,” or “Get over it,” or “Stop worrying over and over again.” And those reactions come from the frustration of watching someone I care about struggle so. I have to really step back and realize that while I have some options to offer, I can’t MAKE her feel better. That has to come from within and it breaks my heart that I can’t help her more than to just listen.
I can’t believe I’ve gone on and on so much here, but I thought you might be interested in some of my story. As someone who has mental health issues and as someone with a lifetime of supporting someone with issues, I’m glad to have had this opportunity to let you know that I support you every step of the way on this journey through life.
|By Ryan||I've been receiving treatment for major depression for fourteen or fifteen years. Most of what I've learned during this time is to take the advice of doctors and professionals. Equally important is how I've managed to maintain my health during this time. Mental illness is a central factor in my life, and managing it well is a central factor to my identity. For me it's kind of an either/or thing. Either you manage it or you don't. I do. I haven't found half measures at all useful in treatment of my own depression. So either I take all my drugs, when I should, and as I should, I maintain a regular sleep and exercise schedule, I eat properly, I manage stress, and I socialize, or I don't. And if I don't do any single one of those things, I might as well not do any of them.
Apparently most people feel better once they're done with running. I feel better once I start. And I continue to feel good as I continue to run. This isn't to say that I want to run forever. But often--very often--I feel like I could, and that doing so wouldn't be so bad.
Running is a massive part of how I manage mental illness. Lucky for me, it's also a central part of my identity. Like mental illness management. Mostly because it's the single activity that I know will always, always elevate my mood, or at least stabilize it. I'm lucky. Extremely.
Here is a list of exactly how running makes me feel good:
More on really great conversations that happen while running: sometimes, people who find themselves in these situations disclose tons of personal information. Which is great. I really enjoy the intimacy. But I find that I don't talk about depression too much anymore. Not in those situations, and not in others. There are a few reasons for this. But perhaps the greatest is that depression--my depression, which has been the cause of so much inconvenience, money, time, anxiety, and pain, for me and more importantly for those closest to me--is not central to my identity. It's central to my life, to be sure. And I've embraced it. Like Churchill said, if you're going through hell, keep going. I'm not about to equate my experiences to anything as extreme as eternal damnation. But if things are nasty, your options are pretty limited. Quit, stagnate (or quit and stagnate), or slog through it. No amount of talking or reframing will change the chronic misfiring of my brain. And this perspective is one I've taken as fact. The sky is blue, I need corrective lenses, and my brain doesn't work properly.
Managing the misfiring of my brain will change, and does change, how I live. I'd like to be in life the same person I am when I'm running. Joyous, generous, expansive. At least that's how I see my running self as I reflect upon it here, clacking out thoughts on a computer. (I imagine there's a lot of evidence for truthful dissent out there, but that doesn't concern me right now. See? Compartmentalization. Cognitive behavioral therapy. I've had years of therapy, and I've picked up a few things that have proven to be useful.) For me, there's a lot of letting go to be done in order to achieve that kind of state. It comes down to prying white knuckles from whatever they're clutching. And all too often, they're clutching at things that don't have anything to do with my health, or what improves it.
I'm not sharing these thoughts to advocate one approach or another. Or any. Or none. I only want to show that yeah, I was there. It's kind of necessary to be forward with one's qualifications in a forum like this. But I share also because of the role running has played in keeping me here. It's not running alone. It's also because of many, many, many things, and people, and favors, and insurance, and more luck than anyone can count on that I'm here. Yes, it gets bad. Horrible. An absence of feeling. Or "too much nothing," as I thought of it once. There can be horrible distracting anger, the hell of other people, overwhelming sadness and frustration that have no noticeable cause. There can be the empty gray hell of the morning coming after the empty black hell of the night, and a morbid, incorporeal existence that affirms the absence of everything and the lack of all significance. Which is how a Sunday school teacher once described hell to me. Not so much eternal flames and pain, but an eternal existence without God. I'm not religious. But I think I have an inkling of what she was talking about. Nothingness burns, too, and absence can tear and bite worse than demons. I don't believe that mental illness, or any kind of illness or situation, can lay claim to misery. I've known horror from depression, but I'm pretty sure that it's not much different, better, or worse than the horrors others have experienced. In fact, I'm certain that it's not nearly as bad as human experience can deliver.
Which is perhaps another reason that I like ultras. Ultras end. They're long enough that they last forever, but at a point, you can step off the merry go round. Or fall off, which is more what it feels like. I enjoy that feeling of done-ness and blankness. I enjoy the fullness, which is odd, because usually an ultra has me feeling like a popped balloon by the time I'm done. And who wants to feel like a popped balloon? Me, I guess.
|By April||People need an outlet, but they also need to feel like their thoughts don't make them a bad or selfish person. Once the dark cloud which blocks the sun begins to break down and the first shreds of light are felt it's amazing how quickly life can have a blue sunny sky, but the clouds and overcast can last a very long time, and that time is terrifying, that is the time when people need support to weather the storm.|
|By John||I had an Aunt Louise ("Weezie") who was my father’s younger sister. She and my father were quite close and she looked up to him for support. Aunt Weezie was funny and fun to be around. She was outgoing, pretty, and loved to laugh. She always used to call me "Crockett", as that was her nickname for me.
She had a drinking problem of long-standing duration, although I did not know it at the time. She committed suicide in 1962 when I was nine years old. She patterned her suicide after Marilyn's Monroe suicide by overdosing on pills in the night: Her suicide occurred only a few days after Marilyn Monroe's. I remember my mother crying when she heard the news on the telephone of the suicide.
I found out years later that Aunt Weezie had called my father the night that she committed suicide, wanting to talk. My father said he did not have time that night to talk, but could they have lunch the next day. My father must have felt very guilty and ashamed about not talking to her that night. It may not have made a difference.
The unwritten rule in our house was that Aunt Weezie, or anything about her death, was a taboo topic. I honored that request and I could count on one hand the number of times her name was ever even mentioned in a conversation, between her suicide in 1962 and my father’s death in 1990. It has only been in the last few years that it has felt somewhat "safe" to talk about it.
|By Eric||From Flabby to 50(K) and Beyond "Taking back my Life" A glimpse into the ongoing transformation of my life.
(This is his link to his blog.)
|By Julio||In 2007 I went to a Victims Impact Panel given by Minnesotans for Safe Driving.
I had decided to contact them and ask if I could attend one of the panels out of curiosity. I had started working for the 4th Judicial District Court and I kept hearing DWI defendants being court ordered to attend this panel.
I was myself struggling with alcohol abuse and had been for many years. I was tired of drinking and getting in situations like drinking and driving, and not being able to control the habit. Also my family was not happy about this with me and they were very clear about it.
Unknowingly to me at the time, the reason for my alcohol consumption was my own ways to self-medicate and in a way forget about what was making me feel depressed. I wouldn’t learn this until a few years later, after I had given up drinking.
I went to this Panel in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. I sat down in the audience and listened to all 5 panelists. Some had been the victims of drunk drivers and one had killed a young girl on the side of a road. The testimonies were real, real emotions and real tears.
After the panel was done and over I decided to go up on stage and meet some of the panelists and I am glad I did. I left the building and sat in my car, I was caught up with so many emotions, I wept for a good time. I didn’t even care if anyone leaving would see me. I thought about how lucky I had been to be alive, but most importantly that I hadn’t cause any harm and pain to anyone who had crossed my path while I had been drunk myself, so many times!
As I was driving away, I stopped to eat and called Sharon Driscoll, she is the director for Minnesotans for Safe Driving. I told her about how touched I was about the panel and I wanted to be part of it and be a volunteer. Her first question to me was: “Julio, do you speak Spanish? If you do, I need you!” Ever since I have been volunteering at the Hennepin County DWI Panel for Latinos. And Sharon has become a mentor and mother figure to me.
At around 2009 a woman working for CLUES (Comunidades Latinas en Servicio) in St. Paul, MN called me and asked me if I was interested in helping her as a volunteer on her alcohol and drugs classes that she was teaching to court ordered offenders. They had to be there as part of their probation terms. So I accepted her invitation and started volunteering. Here it’s where I learned a valuable lesson.
There was a person who had been in this same class for a long time and kept coming back. I remember asking Kacie why do we even take the time, I think I said: why do we waste the time on this loss cause? Her response was that in the past she had seen a person that after years of struggles and battles with addiction finally got up, got cleaned and became a very productive part of our community. So even if these people were here court ordered, for some of them it was all they had and she learned never to give up on anyone, ever.
This is a lesson that helped me to not give up on myself when I really struggled with depression and anxiety a few years later, even when I didn’t have the energy to even believe in continuing fighting.
I know that we all have a purpose in this life, and the sooner we found out what that purpose is, the sooner we can start contributing to create a better community.
Mental Health struggles have taught me to never give up. To fight for that light at the end of the tunnel, believe me is there, and it’s brighter than what you think. To be humble enough to seek help when needed, most people care. Surround yourself with good and positive people. People who are not afraid to tell you what you don’t want to hear, yet you know that they care enough to be honest with you. But most importantly it has taught me to care for myself first and then, and only then, care for others.
As I started this project I promised myself to started and keep on going even when I have doubts and doubts have come and gone already. But, like Kacie once told me, let’s not give up on anyone. One never knows when that light inside of us is going to turn on and miracles are going to happen.
If you don’t believe in miracles, perhaps you’ve forgotten you are one. We’re all beautifully different. Cherish what makes you YOU.
|By Deana||I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 1998, but I'm pretty sure I had been battling it for much longer. My parents' divorce was messy. My father ultimately chose his new family over my brother and me. I never felt good enough and was always very hard on myself.
Once I got to college in 1993, it was the best of times and the worst of times. I had never needed to study in high school so had no study skills and found myself failing a few classes for the first time in my life. To cope, I played every intramural sport available and started mountain biking and running the college's cross country ski trails. I hadn't been allowed to play organized sports in high school, but had always been very active outdoors. The ski trails became my escape. I felt free. I could think and work my way through problems while out there or just turn my brain off and go.
Fast forward to 1998 and I had had every major life change happen within a year besides becoming a mother, I graduated college, lost my grandfather, got married, moved to the big city to start my first real job, etc. My commute in the Twin Cities was never less than 50 mins for my first job. I lost myself. I never had time to get out into nature. Soon I was pregnant and my then husband got transferred to Alabama. After my first child was born, I had very bad post-partum depression and decided I had to force myself to go for walks to feel better. Once we moved to our new city in central Minnesota, the walks increased in length. Then I decided maybe I should try running again.
My first race was in November 2001 and it was a half marathon. Running became the one thing I did for myself as a stay-at-home Mom. I was lucky enough to meet another runner in town and we became such close friends. Though trails are my favorite, any running I can do helps my depression. I'm not fast, but I can run slow for a long time. I admit that sometimes it acts as a drug- I get a runner's high about 98% of the time.
I've learned that I do have a chemical imbalance. Sometimes I do need to take medication. But almost always, I can outrun the need for meds.
In December of 2013, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. The doctors were impressed with how good of shape I was in and encouraged me to keep running as much as my treatments would let me. Since my cancer was so aggressive, my oncologist went with the most aggressive chemo regimen they give. It had me exhausted and had my resting heart rate in the 80/90s often. When I was up to running, I couldn't even make it to a mile before I would need to walk. The part of me that is hard on myself was saying why bother? Then I realized that something is better than nothing. If I quit running, cancer was beating me. If I ran, at least I felt like the old me for a little while. Almost without fail, I feel better after running- my mind is clearer, I sleep better, and I just feel more hopeful. And even with the little running I was able to do, my surgeon commented that my lungs and heart still sound better than most people's at my appointment last week.
Now that my chemo is over, I've recently undergone surgery, and just was told I'm now cancer free, I can't wait to run regularly again. I miss the trails. I miss the high. I want to feel like "me" again. I joke that nature is my Prozac - I truly believe it though! Running seems to help me in a way nothing else can and I'm constantly amazed by what my body can do that I never thought possible.
|By Bob||My name is Bob and this is my story. I have been battling depression for about 9 years now. 8 years ago one of my friends suggested that I see a therapist for my depression because there is only so much your friends can do for you. At the point in my life I was always worrying about everything. I was single but had always had financial issues, was always worrying about bill collectors and how I was to get caught up. Was always feeling sorry for myself and was withdrawing from everyone and spending so much time alone. I didn't want to see a therapist because I always thought that meant you were weak and seeing a so called "Professional" for help was very embarrassing. I finally took that step and went a saw a therapist, and then another one, and another one after that, not telling anyone about it. Just couldn't find a therapist that I was comfortable with. Then finally I found one. She was so understanding and put me at ease. But she could tell I was holding back. I decided to go back and see her again and then again after that. As of today I have been seeing her once a month for 8 years now. I was diagnosed with being bipolar. I am able to share anything with her and talk about anything. But it took me almost 3 years for me to tell anyone I was seeing a therapist for depression, because I was still embarrassed to tell anyone. Because I thought my friends wouldn't understand or they would think of me differently.
In 2009 I had a very serious injury in which I fractured my left lower leg in 4 places. It was a horrific injury. When I was laying in the ER I asked the surgeon if I would ever run again because I was a runner. I had just run the Twin Cities Marathon that year in 3:04 minutes. I was told she didn't know. The fractures I had from just falling was the worst she had ever seen. She couldn't tell me yes or no. It told me almost a year to walk again, and that whole time I got so depressed and there would be nights where I would just cry myself to sleep but I wasn't going to tell anyone that except my therapist.
One month after I was able to walk again the company that I was working for layed me off. They tell me it was because work was slow but the real reason was because I got hurt on another job. At the time I had a full time job and a part time job. My injury accured on my part-time job. I was devastated again. I had just moved into a new apt and now I had no job I didn't know what was going to happen. I was lucky that I was able to find a part-time job about 4 months later and that would become a full-time job but then another devastating event would occur that I never saw coming.
In 2010 I was diagnosed with being HIV+ Even thou I am straight I had experimented with a couple some 2 or 3 months earlier. They were Strangers that I met online. One thing led to another. It only took one time, one mistake that would turn my world upside down. I had gotten sick and thought it was a stomach flu that turns out was much worse. My sister came to the ER that day to see me after I called her to tell her I was in the ER. I had no idea how I was going to tell her. I was so embarrased and scared. I just told her straight out what was wrong with me. I could not stop crying the whole time. The hospital kept me there overnight. My sister and my brother decided It would be best to tell my parents in person then calling them. That evening my parents showed up and I couldn't even look them in their eyes. I felt like that I had let them down and that they would not want to even talk to me because that would be ashamed of me. That evening and the next day I was put on suicide watch at the hospital. I had already made comments that I just wanted to kill myself and end it because I didn't know how I would be able to live a normal life with being HIV+ I had hit rock bottom with my depression.
When I finally got out of the hospital I stayed at my sister's apt because I knew at the time that if I was let alone that I might do something to myself. My family saved me that week by staying at my side thru all of this. I had taken some time off of work to try and get better.
Once I started back at work I had stayed to myself. All my co-workers wanted to know what was going on and I just told them I was sick and ended up in the hospital. I didn't have the courage to tell them the truth. I had gotten sick several more time and ended up missing more work. Kept lying to everyone about what was really wrong. Finally one day I decided that I didn't want to lie anymore that hiding the truth was wearing on me. I decided that If i was going to tell everyone it needed to be somewhere where everyone would know. So I took to Facebook. It was nerve racking. Didnt know how my friends would react. Would they turn their backs on me ? Would they just stop talking to me? Would I forever be alone ? Who would want to be associated with someone who is HIV+ ? Finally I typed up my thoughts and hit post. Decided that what ever happens happens. The response I got was nothing I would have imagined. There was not one single negative comment. I must have gotten like 80 responses and emails from everyone I knew with their support. I never felt so loved in my whole life. i was treated with respect and thoughtfulness. Everyone encouraged me to fight thru this very difficult time in my life. Everyone knew I was having a very hard time with my depression because of what had happened in my life. But with the help of modern medicine and therapy I was able to regain control of my life.
As of today I still see my therapist, I will be on medication for my whole life. I started doing ultra marathons a couple years ago and have met some of the most wonderful friends anyone could ever want in the ultra community. My depression has gotten so much better. I don't worry about the small things in my life anymore that might go wrong. I have a job that I love, have an apt that I love. Have lots of friends who stood by me when things were so gray for me. I will be forever grateful for all my friends and family for their support. I would not be here today trying this very long story to you all if it wasn't for all of them.
We all wish we could change the past, change our mistakes, but we can't. All we can do is move on and try and live our lives the best we can. For me...I will always be HIV+ and I have accepted that. I will be on medication my whole life and I am alright with that. I will probably be single my whole life and I am alright with that. You can't change the past. But it is up to you as to how you will live the rest of your life. Lot of people don't have the support to help them, I am grateful that I do. Having a mental illness is who I am. Do I still get depressed ? Yes I do...but I know now how to manage it and not let it effect my life like it had in the past. Sorry that this story is so long.
Hope if you remeber just one thing from my story it is this: No matter how hard things can get..lean on your friends, that is why they are there. They are there to help you thru the bad times and will be there for you during the good times. If you have to seek professional help please don't be afraid to ask. My life is so much better today because I asked for help.
For those of you who might be dealing with a mental illness or depression, if you are not as fortunate to have a lot of friends as I do for support...please contact me...I will be your friend.
|By Faye||My son shot and killed himself on May 7, 2014. He was 30 years old. He was a son, a brother, a grandson, an uncle and a friend. He was intelligent, creative, talented, exceptionally good looking, had every thing to live for...and he was depressed. In the beginning, he sought help...talked to a psychiatrist, got on some medication...I thought he was going to be okay. He didn't like the medication he was on and instead of trying something different...he chose to self-medicate with alcohol. He got his first DUI at around age 23. He got his second at 25 and his third three months ago. Alcohol was his medication of choice and I could never understand why. He had depression...wasn't alcohol a depressant? How could a depressant help someone who was depressed? When I talked to Julio on Sunday, I found out why. Depression means that there is an imbalance in your brain chemistry...alcohol fixes that imbalance. Unfortunately, the amount of alcohol that fixed it at first, quits working after awhile. You need more alcohol to have the same affect it had originally.
There are so many people, people of authority, who don't understand the connection between depression~alcohol and suicide. This in no way dismisses the battle that anyone is having with depression but I believe it is especially difficult for young men. Danny's dad used to say to him, "Just buck up, be a man" or "just get over it". When you are depressed, you can't just "get over it". There is an expectation in our society for men not to seek help...to take care of their problems on their own and heaven forbid they should talk about it.
I am here to say: talk about it, please...talk about your depression to anyone and everyone. Don't be embarrassed and don't try to hide it. Maybe if my son had gotten a different message, he would still be here. Maybe he would have sought the help he needed so desperately. There is no blame because I will never know for sure...but what I do know is that this brilliant musician, with the best heart in the world is gone from my life forever.
** To learn more about depression please click on this link: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml?utm_source=BrainLine.orgutm_medium=Twitter
|By Nick||Bullying was a major part of my life, growing up as a foster kid since the age of 5 I had no friends, and no social skills.
Through the years I was an outcast, the easily angered and the targeted.
Eventually I got so fed up with the way I was being treated that I just said enough is enough,
"Foster kid" is just a title, it can... be changed. I now strive to be better, to do better, and to succeed in life and prove the stereotypical titling wrong.
The bullying has stopped, I have really amazing friends, and I am going somewhere in life, and it’s all because of the choices I made and the paths I chose.
I am only one of many who have broken through the bad things in life. Don't think your alone. Stay Strong and Persevere.
|By Amanda||I wanted to share my story with you... And the tattoo on the left is mine and says "you are not alone". The tattoo on the right is the one my best friend surprised me with getting.
I am a Survivor (I hate the word victim) of military sexual trauma from 2011 while stationed in South Korea. I have been struggling with depression, anxiety and most of all PTSD. There is such a stigma out there for veterans who have non combat related PTSD. It is a struggle to be recognized as someone who needs the same services and assistance as a combat veteran with PTSD.
I chose to get my tattoo in hopes that others will see it and feel the support, and also so someone may ask about it and I can share my story with them. The teal ribbon for me represents sexual assault awareness, the butterfly around it represents my path and growth, and I chose the words "you are not alone" to let others know they are not alone, and to remind myself about not being alone. My best friend chose to surprise me with her tattoo in support of my story, my struggles and my growth. When others ask about it, she shares my story with them. We are both spreading the word.
|By Curtis||I just started being treated for depression in the last year, although I believe I have battled it for most of my adult life. Several of my aunts have battled depression all their lives and I have always thought of it as a "weakness". I think that I denied that I had depression at all, until it started to really affect my life and my marriage. I had a complicating factor, because I also had a cyst growing in the third ventricle of my brain that was causing a whole host of issues, including exacerbating my deepening depression. I started seeing a talk therapist in the summer of 2013, because of the issues I was having due to depression. My relationship with my therapist never really took off because I think I was in denial that I had a problem, and I wasn't being completely honest with her because of this. I stopped seeing her regularly after a couple of months, believing that my issues with depression were just imagined and I could get them to stop on my own. Boy was I wrong!
In November of 2013, my depression got much worse and it started to be accompanied by a whole host of other issues. I started to see things in my vision and I felt like there was a constant "dark presence" around me. I was grumpy with my family, friends and coworkers. I was forgetting things constantly and would often get mad at those around me when they called me on it. I decided I needed to see my therapist again about mid-November. While it was helpful, I wasn't convinced talk therapy was for me. I swore I would never go to therapy again and I cut my ties.
Fast forward to a day that will live in infamy for me....December 13th 2013 (Friday the 13th for those of you who pay attention to that type of stuff). I woke up to get ready for work, grabbed my clothes and walked into the bathroom to take a shower and I passed out on the bathroom floor. My wife heard me fall from the bedroom, so she ran in and tried to rouse me. I was completely non-responsive at first but I started to talk after a little while. I told my wife that I was fine, but she was worried so she called the Nurse line at the hospital. The nurse advised us to go to the nearest emergency room. I was somewhat dubious because I had gone out with friends the night before and I convinced myself I was just "delayed" drunk. So my wife called a friend of ours who use to be a paramedic. He also told us to go to the emergency room, so I relented and we went in.
When we got to the emergency room they asked me some questions and decided I needed a CT Scan. When they gave me the scan, they saw that I had a colloid cyst in the third ventricle of my brain, and they told my wife that I wouldn't be leaving the hospital. They then transferred me to another hospital where they could do the surgery. I honestly don't remember the next 4 days or so up to the surgery. I know people came to visit me and I remember snippets of that but ultimately it was a blur. I had the surgery the morning of December 17th. I remember them coming to get me and wheeling me into the "holding area". They asked me a few more questions and the anesthesiologist came in to give me the anesthesia. I was out and don't remember anything until I came to again in the recovery room. I think my wife was there, but I'm not sure. Once I was recovered they wheeled me up to my room again and there I stayed for a week. They discharged me and I went home.
Apparently my incision started to leak Cerebral Spinal Fluid and I had to go back to the hospital for another surgery to put a shunt in in the beginning of January. I really don't remember any of this part up until about mid-February when I started to "come to" again. Apparently, I was totally functional during the "blank" time but I had a somewhat "glazed" look when I interacted with people. I don't really know cause I don't remember most of it. I do know that I was attending Physical and Cognitive therapy during that time, of which I remember a little, but beside that, my life didn't really resume again until I returned to work.
I was hoping that the depression was linked exclusively to the cyst that they removed from my brain, but that would have been too convenient. After being discharged from the hospital I started to frequently have suicidal thoughts. I never acted upon them but I thought about it a lot. Apparently my depression was taking hold again, and my brain didn't have the ability to deal with it anymore.
I got referred to a psychologist who prescribed me a low-dose of Prozac. I had originally been totally against taking any anti-depressants, but the fact that I had just gone through brain surgery convinced me that I might no longer have the ability to cope unassisted. It took a while to kick in, but slowly the Prozac started to work. I began to see the brighter side of life and no longer dwelled on all the negatives. I started to run again, and actually joined a running club that they had at my workplace. I met more and more people and made many new friends. I wasn't going to let depression take over my life. I was going to take control and make sure this sickness didn't ruin my life.
I also decided that I no longer wanted to take from those around me and would instead give back what I could. Not being a rich man, this meant volunteering. I knew how much the volunteers at the races I went to made them a richer experience for me. I decided that this was the perfect way for me to give back. I started to volunteer at any race that needed me. Through my volunteering I met many new friends, who I hope to have for a very long time.
Depression (or any mental illness) doesn't have to ruin your life. You can take control and get your life back. Running is one avenue that allows us to do this. This is why I am such an ardent supporter of Julio and his goals in the "Break the Stigma" project.
|By Eric||Where do I start? I think I have always lived with anxiety and depression to some degree. I remember as a child and then teenager my mother asking me what was wrong or what was bothering me and all I could say was “I don’t know”. What I did know was that I felt hollow inside and do not remember anything being very fun. We moved a lot and I learned to use the changing schools to sharpen my blending in skills. If no one noticed me I didn’t have to deal with anything. I continued this practice into adulthood while keeping myself busy much of the time. I would guess I would be labeled with functioning depression, like a lot of people.
Later in my thirties it was a matter of going numb and continuing to function on auto pilot. I virtually shut down my emotions, not feeling good, bad or anything in between for that matter. Back then, I had a doctor with little people skills and a thick prescription pad that he enjoyed using. To be honest I probably threw away as many prescriptions as I had filled. He treated by blood pressure as hypertension even though the medication did little to change it. His answer was always to raise the dosage.
After I turned forty, I went on a two year quest to explore a more positive outlook, my thought process, spirituality and nutrition habits. Making many gradual changes along the way. I realized that the changes I was making had more effect that the three prescriptions. With my blood pressure under control I went into his office told him I was taking myself off the pills and fired him and looked for another doctor. Honestly the thought that I had some control to what doctor I saw never dawned on me before this time. I basically interviewed my next doctor and talked extensively about how I wanted this relationship to work and asked if that worked for him.
At times it is a matter of paying attention to my thoughts and staying focused on positive things around me and other times it piles up and weighs me down. I have become more aware and most times can see it coming and head it off at the pass. Every now and again it gets the best of me for a while. I am able to function and hide it for a while until I sink into myself and my blood pressure forces me to take action.
A couple years ago after two miscarriages and uncertainty at work I was starting to get warning signs from my body. I realized it did not make me feel better to talk to a friend, workout or go for a run, and even got dangerous to run with my blood pressure spiking. I went to my doctor, who I trust and who allows me to be part of the decision process and he suggested I try a low dose of Citalopram. We agreed to try it for a few months to help me get back on track and doing the things that kept me balanced. We set up a follow up visit and when I saw him again we agreed that I could stop taking it.
This summer, after two more miscarriages and many other pressures I found myself needing to make the call again. My doctor and I discussed it and agreed that we were dealing with comparable circumstances as last time. We are taking a similar approach as last time, on a month to month basis until the blood pressure is not an issue and we can reevaluate. This time I had more knowledge of what was going on and what I need to do. It makes all the difference having a couple of people you trust to talk to and a doctor who is willing to work with you and allows you to be part of the process.
Too many of us (especially men) are taught that we need to suck it up, be a man and deal with it. That is not always possible and there is no reason to feel ashamed or weak if you need to talk to someone. Also, educate yourself and do not feel like it is wrong to ask for a second opinion. Treating the symptoms only masks and rarely treats the real issue.
|By Steve||My name is Steve and I've been battling mental illness for more than a decade. At first I was diagnosed with major depression, which seemed to make sense at the time. It turns out that I have bipolar disorder, a mood disorder that involves alternating between high highs and low lows, often to the extreme. But most people don't seek help when they're feeling great, do they?
The highs started occurring sometime during college, right around age 20. I started to believe that I was destined to do something so profound that it would have a monumental impact on the course of humanity. I kind of went in and out of these “phases”, as I thought they were. I don't recall ever being really depressed during those years, but there were times when I would just kick ass at everything I did, and then times where I just lost interest and underachieved in everything that I did. It was never just a day or two, these “phases” would last several weeks or months.
In my early to mid twenties, I advanced quickly in my career as a software engineer. I was always eager to learn new things, and I came up with solutions to complex problems on the fly. I implemented these solutions in a short amount of time, and with a high degree of success. It was common for me to be the top producer on the team. Unbeknownst to my employers, often times my motivation came from some underlying plan or project that was going to change the world. I wanted to be the best, and at times, I probably was. I was a highly self-motivated coding machine. One afternoon, I walked into a meeting room that was full of people whom I had never met. I introduced myself, and I had barely finished saying my name, when one of my colleagues blurted out “AKA Rockstar!” Indeed, I felt like one at times. I felt unstoppable.
The more I learned, the more knowledge I craved. The problem was that I was unfocused. I wanted to change the world, but I didn’t know how to do it. And I started down many different paths, only to come up short on all of them. I didn’t tolerate failure and would avoid it at all costs. When it became clear that I would never succeed at any of these grandiose plans, I crashed and crashed hard. I was not immortal and I didn’t have any super-human qualities. I had come to realize that the delusions of mania were just that, delusions. It was during this time that I first sought help. I was diagnosed with major depression and put on anti-depressants.
The drugs would work for awhile, but I would still get those high highs, usually followed by a hard crash. After a couple years, the medical professionals figured out what was going on, and why the anti-depressants were only effective for a little while. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and put on Depakote, a mood stabilizer that is used to control manic symptoms. This most certainly prevented the highs from happening. It also made me gain 40 pounds and did absolutely nothing to prevent the lows. It was during this time that I had the lowest lows and most severe symptoms, including psychosis, mainly in the form of persecutory delusions. I hated myself. This was the most dangerous time for me, and I nearly gave up on life completely.
Fortunately, I was able to keep on going, and it did get better. My doc got me off Depakote and onto Lamictal, an anti-seizure drug that is also used for the maintenance of bipolar disorder. For me, it has been the wonder drug. The highs and lows still occur, but the drug keeps the highs from getting too high and the lows from getting too low. I dropped 30 pounds within 2 months of being off Depakote. People complimented me on the weight loss. I never told them how I lost it. Why? The stigma of mental illness, of course. I avoided talking about my struggles with mental illness as much as I avoided talking about politics or religion. The reality is that it is far more productive to discuss mental illness than it is to discuss politics or religion!
I will probably be on Lamictal for the rest of my life. At first, I hated that idea. Lamictal does have some side effects which require me to take other meds to mitigate those side effects, and missing a dose of Lamictal results in horrible and potentially dangerous physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. But my doctor told me the harsh truth when I asked him if I could one day get off of meds. He said it would be the same as if a diabetic stopped taking insulin. I was not happy to hear that, but have come to realize that it is the truth, at least for me.
I saw a therapist for awhile. Usually, it didn’t help that much, because we would just BS about stuff that didn’t really matter, like Brett Favre and cat piss. But he did turn me on to mindfulness, which I have found to be very beneficial. I still struggle a lot with anxiety and paranoid delusions. Mindfulness meditation helps with that, especially when I’m having trouble falling asleep.
I find trail running to be a very meditative and mindful experience when I am by myself. I am always in the present moment. All the thoughts and worries in my head - that are flying around at a billion miles per hour - will fade away, and I am only concerned with tripping over the roots buried under the leaves, or rolling an ankle while opening up and letting myself fly down a steep hill, which I love to do. Nothing beats the rush of a good downhill bomb!
I liken running, particularly ultra-running, to my struggles with mental illness. During very long distance runs, I know that if I just stick with it, the pain might not go away, but my body and mind will adapt to it and I will be able to just keep on going. It doesn’t matter if I have to slow down a little or a lot. If I’m lucky, the painful areas will go numb and I’ll be able to go faster than when I started! But really, all I have to do is just be, and the run and the distance will take care of itself. And that’s really all I have to do in everyday life. Just be. All of the bullshit will decay into the earth on its own. All I have to do is just be.
I am very thankful for the Break the Stigma Project and I strongly believe in its mission. We can all benefit from talking about mental illness. For so many years, the only people who knew about my struggles were my most immediate family and a few very close friends. But now it’s out there, and I’ll discuss it with anyone who wants to know more. Start the dialogue, open up the conversations, and break the stigma!
|By Eric||“Without a struggle, there can be no progress.”
~ Frederick Douglass ~
Time to Get My Ass out of the Well; a year in the hole
The first story below sums up the way I have felt the past year (at least up to the shaking it off part). For the better part of a year I have been slipping into a deep hole of anxiety, depression, and uncertainty. The frustrating part is that some of what keeps pushing me back in that hole is out of my control and some is in my head. I know better than to live in the past or future but my overactive brain drags me around in the dirt sometimes.
One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well.
The animal cried for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey.
He invited all his neighbors to come over & help him. They all grabbed a dirt & began to shovel dirt into the well.
At first, the donkey didn’t realized what was happening & cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement he quieted down. A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing.
He would shake it off & take a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off & take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well & happily trotted off..!!!
If you deal with anxiety you know that even when things start to go your way, it causes anxiety. Sometimes it is that you have been kicked in the junk just enough that you have a hard time picturing anything going right. Maybe it is simply your anxious brain over processing every scenario that could possibly happen. I want to be positive and in the moment and at times that is a constant challenge for me.
Whatever the future holds for me, and it feels like there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I have to climb out of this hole I have dug for myself. It is nowhere to try to live a life from and I have spent way too much of my life in dark places. Being what I refer to as functionally depressed is a challenge all in itself. I show up every day, I try to be as positive as possible, and be there for others while in constant turmoil.
This post is categorically not about seeking pity or sympathy. It is a reminder to take a mental inventory of yourself and the people close to you periodically. Also, it is a reminder to myself that just because I see daylight, it does not mean I am in the clear. I have to keep a constant vigil and continue stepping up when the dirt gets shoveled in on me.
There is another story that I remember from West Wing that I really like, that I would like to share. Leo McGarry (who was one of my favorite characters) is trying to explain to Josh that he understands what he is going through and will stick by him. It starts out like a three guys walk in to a bar joke.
This guy's walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can't get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, "Hey you, can you help me out?" The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up "Father, I'm down in this hole, can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. "Hey Joe, it's me, can you help me out?" And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, "Are you stupid? Now we're both down here." The friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before, and I know the way out."
The spirit of both stories and of this post is to serve as a reminder that you are not alone in how you feel or what you are going through and there is always a way out. Find a person who understands you that you can talk to, or even just send a message to on the really tough days. Don’t try to carry the load by yourself or one day it will engulf you.
Final note: Being compassionate and empathetic is critical to our survival as a society, but you must practice these qualities with yourself as well. Thank you for reading this and being part of my crooked, rocky trail.
|By Natalie||Panic attacks are the worst feeling in the world. It is exhausting. They truly take a physical and mental toll on the body. I would know. My junior year in college, I started feeling off and by the time fall semester finals had arrived, I went to bed and woke up every morning with dizzy spells and full on body sweat.
For weeks, my anxiety had only increased. They got so bad that the countdown to class finals were a ticking time bomb. I used to walk out of my classes or played hooky and turned around, while on my way to school. I would lie to my professors the next time I saw them about being “sick” with the cold or fever. The irony: I was sick in a way.
After completing that fall semester, my panic attacks had only peaked and immobilized me when I was unable to leave the house. I spent a month indoors and kept convincing myself that college classes had taken a toll on me, which was true to a degree. With flu-like symptoms, from body aches and chills; fatigue; and feeling nauseated all the time because my stomach was always in knots, I thought it would go away. It did not.
It became a problem when I had difficulty getting out of bed. It was a habit of mine to roll back over and fall back asleep. My appetite had decreased. It was difficult to focus. I thought it was just a phase, until one particular morning when my mother woke me up and asked if I was planning to get out of bed. It was 11am, meaning that I had slept over twelve hours. I never slept in that late because I was a morning person. My biggest fear soon came true when I realized that I needed professional help.
It was a horrifying experience, not knowing what to expect as I walked into the nearest family practices’ office and anxiously and impatiently waited to be called in. Not going to lie, I felt like the world’s biggest failure as soon as my therapist had advised me within minutes into our first session that what I had been experiencing physically and mentally was, indeed, panic attacks and acute depression. At the time, I thought therapy was something that had only happened in the movies, not in real life. I was disappointed with myself as a student, writer and human being; but in reality, I was far from being a failure.
Overtime, I eventually wanted to know what panic attacks were exactly and how to overcome them, especially when they became frequent throughout my final semesters of college. My biggest fear was having panic attacks in a public setting because the thought of not being in control meant that I was powerless. I soon learned that catastrophizing a situation that had not occurred would trigger anxiety for anyone. My mind was so used to jumping to the worst case scenario, which explained my fear of leaving the house and stepping into the world of possibly being judged for my wounds.
The truth is that nobody will ever have control over what others think or say, especially when it comes to mental health. Panic attacks and going to therapy does not make one a failure because everyone has their own battles and it is okay to ask for help, no matter what. A part of me still wishes that I would have tuned out specific comments sooner because I am still learning how to work through the stigmas. Therapy does not always work for everyone and that is expected because each person has their own coping mechanisms to deal with life. But what is not okay are when people insult others for their struggles and choices to cope, especially if it is going to therapy. I would know due to personal experiences, being told by my now former physician that I would fail at my goals because, according to her, panic attacks are my own fault. The one comment that still hurts until this day was when someone, who knew about my own struggles and coping mechanisms, said that therapy is a waste of thousands of dollars and people are better off taking acting classes to never deal with their problems.
Panic attacks do not make one “crazy” and someone does not just bring them “upon themselves,” just like therapy is not a waste of time or “stupid.” Panic attacks and therapy is not a sign of failure or destroy lives because it does not put a stop to ones’ dreams. That is why stigmas will forever be stigmas and to keep breaking them down is to keep pushing forward with dreams. There is light after darkness. Hope becomes now when one is able to step back and focus on what has been achieved so far and how more will eventually be accomplished in the future.