Mother Teresa, A Suffering and Depressed Saint.

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
— Mother Teresa

Yesterday, Pope Francis confirmed that Mother Teresa would be canonized a saint on September 4. Mother Teresa is one of the most beloved human beings of our modern times. Her selfless love for the poor untouchables of Calcutta's slums is the sacrifice of legend. The Noble Peace Prize winning nun was so revered that Pope Francis waived the requirement to wait five years after a person's death to begin the process of canonization. Her actions and wise counsel have inspired countless generations. 

Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.
— Mother Teresa

As part of the canonization process, there emerged a series of letters that Mother Teresa wrote to her spiritual advisor. In those letters Mother Teresa revealed that she sometimes struggled with questions of faith and even the existence of God. Additionally, she revealed that she often suffered with deep bouts of severe depression. Yes, one of the legendary spiritual leaders of our era suffered from doubt and depression.

As someone who suffers from depression, I can attest this disease can evoke deep self doubt and that doubt can be existentially challenging. Some, like the late apostle of atheism Christopher Hitchens, believe that these letters make Mother Teresa"a fanatic, fundamentalist, fraud," who in her dark moments admitted there is no God.

However, I would attest that rather than exposing hypocrisy that Mother Teresa's doubts and depression made her something that is common to so many of us–a human being that suffers with mental illness like hundreds of millions of other human beings on our planet. 

When Mother Teresa is officially made a Catholic saint in September, we should all remember–Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and even atheists–that the real miracle of Mother Teresa's life is that she overcame the human frailties of doubt and the disease of severe depression to love others without conditions. Her motives?  That they not suffer from the terrible stigma and poverty of feeling judged and unwanted.  

Dolores 

 

 

Canada's Prime Minister, His Mom and Her Mental Illness.

 Justin and his Mother, Margaret on Election Night. October 2015.

Justin and his Mother, Margaret on Election Night. October 2015.

Margaret Trudeau was the hip, elegant, sultry and an always interesting first lady of Canada for eight years in the 70's.  Thirty years younger than her famous husband, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Margaret had the uncanny quality of being able to evade her husband shadow and was indeed a celebrity in her own right.

She was also a controversial figure–she smuggled drugs in the prime minister's luggage, made scantily clad appearances at Studio 54, and tore apart a quilt work made by Canadian conceptual artist Joyce Wieland that hung on the wall in the prime minister's official residence in Ottawa because it celebrated "reason over passion."

Perhaps wearied by public life and scandal, Pierre and Margaret divorced in 1983. When her youngest son, Michel, was killed in an avalanche Margaret– by her own admission– fell into a deep bipolar depression. 

Year's later, Margaret opened up about her struggles with bipolar disorder. Today, she is one of Canada's leading mental health advocates. 

Last year, her son, Justin, was elected Canada's prime minister. While Justin is proud to follow in his father's footsteps, it's his mother's mental health journey that is leading him toward forging an enduring public policy legacy. As he puts it, "We need to stop stigma and bring awareness and understanding." 

In a recent interview with 60 Minute's Lara Logan Trudeau discusses his mother's mental illness and her advocacy. 


From the UK with love, humor and no stigma.

Rachel Nwokoro is British, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants and a significant poet and performance artist in the vibrant London arts scene. She is also a mental health advocate.

Two years ago, her best friend took her own life in the midst of a psychotic disturbance. It was a terrible existential crisis for Rachel. Today, she's transformed her sadness into advocacy. Her mental health video BLOG called #InTheEgg is informative, sad, humorous and redemptive all in the same breath. 

The subject for her latest BLOG is STIGMA.  Enjoy and thank you Rachel for your advocacy.   

Stacey Lehrer Tells Unique's Story

We got such an overwhelming response from the powerful story of Stacey Lehrer and her friendship with Unique, we decided to repost. We are adding a longer narrative version of the story that Stacey wrote for NAMI:

Stacey Lehrer of Warwick, Rhode Island is articulate and magnanimous mental health advocate. The story of her friend, Unique, is a story of sadness and redemption all wrapped into a powerful narrative. A must watch!

We are adding a longer narrative version of the story that Stacey wrote for NAMI:

Kirsten Dunst was young, successful and depressed.

Kirsten Dunst was just a child when I first saw her work in the quirky kids movie, Jumanji. She played a little girl caught in a jungle world along side the great Robin Williams. Little did anyone know, she suffered from depression just like Robin Williams. A few years back, she played a depressed woman, Justine in the arts drama Melancholia. A powerful and realistic portrayal. Now, she is opening up about her struggles with depression in in this interview with Ellen DeGeneres. 

How I lost my job because of my bipolar disorder.

Cris Richardson is no pushover nor is she anyone's victim. That doesn't mean she wasn't pressured from her job because of her bipolar disorder. 

Cris Richardson is a mental health advocate from Verdigis, Oklahoma–a rural community between Tulsa and Joplin, Missouri. She's somewhat of a Mental Health Justice (MHJ) legend. She was one of the first members to "Tell Her Story" on MHJ. Her candor and intelligence motivated many others to tell their story. Now, Cris wants to tell another important part of her mental health experience–her story about workplace/mental health discrimination. 
 

I began my position in 2000 as Assistant Director of the Learning Resource Center at a local university.

  Cris' family on the day her husband became a  pastor of First Baptist Church in Stringtown, OK in 1985.

Cris' family on the day her husband became a  pastor of First Baptist Church in Stringtown, OK in 1985.

I often wonder just how many people that have been subjected to mental health work place discrimination there are out there. My guess is thousands and thousands.
— Cris Richardson

 I was responsible foe teaching 9 hours, starting online classes in basic writing to launch a tutoring program, and to hire the instructors for the basic classes some students require to prepare for regular college classes. It was a job for three people, but by myself I did it and did it well. I received a salary raise my first year for my success.

When the Fall 2001 semester began, I became overwhelmed and became more determined to complete all of the tasks assigned to me. I began to work longer and longer hours. I was only sleeping 2-3 hours a night. I was becoming manic.

Although I had never been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, I recognized what was happening and sought help from a psychiatrist in my health insurance network. She diagnosed me with both bipolar disorder and ADHD. She chose to begin treating my ADHD first with an anti-epilepsy drug called GABITREL®  It didn't seem to work, I only got more manic. 

My job was spinning out of control. I was open and honest with my supervisor. Suddenly, she isolated me from my staff in an office some distance from the others. Then, as problems arose, rather than working through them together, she began offering help: "Why don't we have so-and-so take over that so you can concentrate on teaching."  I had no clue as to what was going on.

I felt paranoid, but you know it is not paranoia if it really is happening–people who worked for me were ignoring my requests, the tutors were ignoring me, and my coworkers were chewing me out like I worked for them. This was the beginning of the 2002 semester. I began to have mixed episodes.

Finally, in April 2002, I realized that I was no longer effective in my job. I called my supervisor's Assistant Vice President who happened to be a friend of mine. I told her that I needed to resign and why. She asked if that was what I wanted. I said no, but if I couldn't get the people who worked for me to come to a staff meeting, I had no choice. I did want to finish out the semester teaching my course. I was ignored and left alone until I left at the end of the semester.

I had an epiphany. They had not wanted to fire me for fear of a lawsuit, so I was forced out when my situation became so untenable that I had to resign. Rather than working with me, they were more concerned with getting sued. I was devastated. How could people I knew, trusted and performed quality work for treat me like this?

My work was everything. This situation was the precipitating event to my nearly successful suicide attempt. 

I finally found a psychiatrist who understood bipolar and began treating me with the proper medications. We worked as a team to be sure I am mentally healthy. We made adjustments as needed. The worst adjustment was realizing I couldn't work because it led to mania.

I have been stable for over 10 years. But the thought of what happened to me still makes me sad and angry that educated people could kick a mentally ill person when she was down rather than helping her up.

I wonder how many others there are like me out there. My guess is a whole lot. I also wonder when our nation's policymakers will actually do something to address mental health reform including workplace discrimination. My hope is soon. 

I wonder how many others there are like me out there. My guess is a whole lot. I also wonder when our nation’s policymakers will actually do something to address mental health reform including workplace discrimination. My hope is soon.
— Cris Richardson
 

Christine Lahti sister's suicide motivated a unique movie project.

“My sister struggled with bipolar disease for over twenty-five years and then she took her life.”
— Christine Lahti

Christine Lahti is one of the most successful actors of our time. From her breakout role in "Chicago Hope" to her incredible role as an Assistant District Attorney in "Law & Order," we know her face and recognize her significant acting talent. What we don't know about her, until now, is the story of Christine's sister who suffered with bipolar disorder, which eventually led to her sister's suicide. That painful experience inspired a role dear to Christine's heart.  In the independent movie Touched with Fire, she plays the mother of woman with bipolar disorder. The film is the powerful love story of two poets who have bipolar disorder and meet in the psyche ward. Here's the trailer. 

110 min | Drama, Romance Two manic depressives meet in a psychiatric hospital and begin a romance that brings out all of the beauty and horror of their condition.

A Special Valentine from Father Fong

 The art work of Father Franklin Fong, Ofm

The art work of Father Franklin Fong, Ofm

My friend and Franciscan priest Father Franklin Fong, who I met at St. Francis Church in Sacramento, California,  generously imparted gentle and wise counseling to me at a particularly dark time in my life. He did not judge, he loved. That helped me begin my recovery. 

Father-Fong.png

Father Franklin is a man of many talents, one of them is his work as a calligraphy artist.  Several pieces of his art adorns my house.  To commemorate St. Valentine’s Day, I thought you would enjoy one of his latest works. 

Happy Valentine’s Day, our loving Mental Health Justice community!

There is nothing glamorous about severe bipolar disorder, ADHD and suicide.

Perhaps no one career has paralleled the era of modern television more than that of renowned actress Mariette Hartley–from the Twilight Zone, to Star Trek, to The Incredible Hulk, to The Rockford Files, and The Love Boat–Mariette's performances were part of the lexicon of small screen entertainment from the 60's through the 90's.  

Beautiful and talented, Hartley also hid a dark secret. Her family was afflicted with severe bipolar disorder and suicide. Her father was the infamous psychologist, John B. Watson. Watson's strange theories of behaviorism suggested that children from infancy to young adulthood were hampered by too much human affection and should never be touched.  Those bizarre and damaging  theories had a terrible affect on Hartley. Then–to make matters worse– her eccentric and often abusive father took his own life when she was only a teenager. Her mother then spiraled into state of destructive alcoholism. It would be twenty-five years before the family revealed the tragedy of her father's suicide.

The poltergeist of that broken childhood deeply possessed Hartley's psyche and spirit. It was a haunting that endured even through the incredible fame of her storied television career. It was also a lonely haunting, divorced twice, she barely spoke of her inner demons and it was not until the early 90's that she sought help and was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder and ADHD. Thankfully, she was able to bear therapy, she began a effective drug regiment, and slowly her spirit recovered.

As a cathartic climax to her story, she penned an autobiography titled, "Breaking the Silence." Hartley discusses her long and painful experience in this compelling and often funny interview with Stacey Gualandi of The Woman's Eye. It's well worth a listen.

Thank you Mariette Hartley for having the  courage to tell your story.

Mental Health Justice. No Stigma. No judgment. Everyone is welcome.

Dolores  

 

 

A poem about mental illness by A.S. Minor

A.S. Minor is a poet from Daytona Beach, Florida. Haunted by the demons of his childhood, he chose the written and spoken word as an outlet for and expression of his mental illnesses–Borderline Personality Disorder and PTSD.

He says, "I have found my calling in trying to use poetry and my own personal experiences to help people not feel so alone, and to maybe venture out of their own comfort zone to achieve Post-TraumaticGrowth."

I will eventually be putting this up on my YouTube channel, but I wanted to give a little Facebook exclusive first. Please be honest and let me know what you think. It's my first time performing it publicly. And if you like it, please share it on your own Facebook and other social media. Thanks!

Posted by A.S. Minor on Monday, January 11, 2016

His poem is intense, reflective, personal and redemptive at the same time. Using strong metaphors and a disciplined pace, A.S. Minor expresses his Post-TraumaticGrowth experience with the powerful voice of truth.

Thank you A.S. for sharing and thank you for teaching us what Post-TraumaticGrowth is all about.

Mental Health Justice. No stigma. No Judgment. Everyone is welcome. 

Dolores 

Ground Control to Mental Health Justice

For any music fan who grew up in the 70's or 80's, David Bowie's artistic influence was everywhere–progressive rock, punk rock, glam rock, New Wave later Indy rock, space rock (think Pink Floyd & Muse), disco, emo, ska revival, & modern R&B/pop fusion (think Michael Jackson)–his genius infused the bones of all of those movements and the artists that performed in those genres.

I first heard David Bowie's music in the early 70's and I was instantly drawn to his lyrics that explored the stigma that accompanies being considered different by society and the realms of human isolation that he iconically represented in his alter ego–the astronaut Major Tom–introduced in his hit "Space Oddity": 

This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating
in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do
— from Space Oddity

The original 1969 video of the David Bowie classic "Space oddity.: 

Bowie lyrics continued to deal with human isolation and knocking on the door of insanity. His 1981 classic collaboration with with Queen, "Under Pressure" was an anthem for all those dealing with the overwhelming stress and existential realities of modern life.  

It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming, “Let me out!”
Tomorrow gets me higher
Pressure on people - people on streets
— Queen & David Bowie

After hearing of Bowie's death earlier this week, I started to chronicle his lyrics in my thoughts and consequently to manically hum them in the kitchen, in the shower, at the grocery store. It became a bit of an obsession and soon it was clear to me that David Bowie's muse was constantly exploring people's struggles with mental health triggers. Hmm? A little research was in order.

I was quick to discover that indeed David Bowie's muse was one who knew mental illness well. His mother's family had a genetic disposition to mental disorders, His brother, Terry, suffered from schizophrenia. That experience introduced Bowie, at a young age, to the terrors of misunderstanding, stigma and judgment. This is an excerpt from Davanna Cimino's biography of David Bowie: 

In an era when there was more shame attached to mental illness than there is today (although we still deal with this stigma up to the present day) there was little meaningful help for David’s half-brother, Terry who suffered from schizophrenia. The streak of mental illness that ran through David’s mother’s side of the family cast a shadow in David’s life from his youth onward.

in 1967, David experienced one of Terry’s full blown bouts of schizophrenia. He had taken Terry to see Cream at the Bromel Club. The loud music induced a bad reaction in Terry. David took him outside to the street to get some relief. David recounts that Terry fell to the ground. There was fire coming out of cracks on the street, and Terry was trying to hold onto the road to keep from falling into the sky. David recounts this experience, and Terry’s illness in this VH1 “Legends” (part 1) documentary on YouTube.

Terry was institutionalized at Cane Hill mental hospital. Eventually, Terry took his own life in 1983.
— David Bowie- A biography

Nearly ten years after the death of his brother, Bowie gathered the courage to write about the experience in the very honest and intense "Jump They Say":

David Bowie was clearly one of the most innovative artists of the modern era–part Mozart, part Shakespeare, part Giorgio Armani-his legacy extends across music genres, fashion, theater and film and social commentary.

However, when you look through the glasses of Bowie's life narrative you consistently see a muse guided by the ghost of the young David Jones (Bowie's given name) whose brother, the town crazy, was the subject of gossip and ridicule.  Years later, he wrote of his regret of not quite figuring out how to help his mentally ill brother.

Got Oh my, naked eyes
I should have kept you
I should have tried
I should have been a wiser kind of guy
I miss you
— "Survive" by David Bowie

The real question we need to ask ourselves is, "How different would have David Bowie's art have been had he not had such an intense interaction with mental illness as a young man?" While we can never know, we do know that a hallmark of Bowie's music was to emancipate yourself not from "the demons that you understand but from the ghosts (that you don't)."  In his last album "Black Star" released just a few weeks ago, Bowie uses the imagery of a psych ward to say perhaps goodbye and seemingly release his own ghosts of mental illness. 

David Bowie's final song Lazarus." 

Thank you David Bowie for all your incredible music and for having the courage and insight to explore your own "Ghosts of mental illness." 

Mental Health Justice. No stigma, no judgment. Everyone is welcome. 

Dolores. 

 

 

 

 

America, we have a mental health problem!

Mental Health Justice is young. We launched only six months ago. The amazing news is that we are the United States' fastest growing grassroots mental health organization. We now have nearly 21,000 members, every day between 6,000 to 10,000 of you are taking an active role in sharing your story or commenting on others stories, our posts have reached nearly two million people in the United States, and we have members across the globe from the United Kingdom to Mexico. 

The bad news is that our six months of existence, we have gotten hard look at the incredible dysfunction that is our nation's mental health system­––harsh stigma and judgment, high suicide rates, lack of access to basic services, exploitation and corrupt practices toward the mentally ill. Perhaps the most egregious misdeed against the mentally ill is our treatment by law enforcement. Now, a new study by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center shows that the mentally ill are sixteen times more likely to die at the hands of police than others.

“If this were any other medical condition, people would be up in arms,” Snook said. “What we need to do is treat the person before the police are ever called. This is a mental illness, but we respond by calling the police and arresting a person.”
— John Snook, Executive Director Treatment Advocacy Center

This doesn't mean society doesn't have a choice. On one hand there is the brutal and murderous treatment by police of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man with schizophrenia, who was beaten by Fullerton, CA police officers four years ago. On the other hand there is Crisis Intervention Training or the Memphis Model of dealing with crisis situations. The difference is understanding, calm and quality training as opposed to the status quo. Here is a great article from The Atlantic discussing the issue.

 Dolores Sanchez at Kelly Corner, Fullerton, CA. The corner is the site of the death of Kelly at the hands of Fullerton Police.

Dolores Sanchez at Kelly Corner, Fullerton, CA. The corner is the site of the death of Kelly at the hands of Fullerton Police.

America we have big problem­. That much is clear. In a civilized society mental illness is not a reason to judge or stigmatize anyone much less arrest or kill them. The reason mental health justice is here is to create a forum to discuss and act on the issues that affect our mental health community. So if you're discouraged–don't be. We're fighting back; we will overcome!

Mental Health Justice. No stigma. No judgment. Everyone is welcome.

Dolores.

 

 

Mental Health Justice documentary coming.

Mental Health Justice is proud to announce... 

...that a CA based filmmaker has received a modest gift to put together a short length documentary (in the 30-40 minute range) about our Mental Health Justice community.

Obviously, we want everyone in our community to take part. However, our limited budget ONLY allows us to shoot in California. Since, our community is nationwide, we want to offer a solution to those who want to participate. And since, we are a creative and resourceful community, we think we have a simple resolution–you can shoot your own interview at home and send it to us!  Just point the camera at yourself and answer the question, "Why are you a member of mental health justice community?"  

Hit the button below and it will walk you through the process of sending us a video. Our membership is from every area of the United States, so wherever you are from–we'd love you to participate in this special project.  

If you live in California, we may be able to interview you in person. So please let us know. 

Thank you everyone.

Mental Health Justice. No stigma, no judgment. Everyone is welcome. 

Dolores

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Josh Quigley tried to commit suicide. Now, he is going to travel the world to tell people his story.

 
 

You may need some imagination to figure this one out. I am going to tell you the story of a young Scottish man who has had quite a year.

He's the founder and president of a growing and dynamic Internet startup called Shark Dog. He was named Entrepreneur of the Year 2015.  He's witty, intelligent and has a future brighter than a clear morning.

Then, what if I told you one night he got into his car and opened up his engine until he was racing at eighty miles an hour and the car flipped? What if I told you that he wrecked his car purposely? What if I said he was suffering from severe depression and just couldn't take it any more? He wanted his promising life to end.

You might say, "I understand. I've heard tragic stories like that before."

 Josh in his hospital bed recovering from his suicide attempt.

Josh in his hospital bed recovering from his suicide attempt.

But then, what if I told you that after spending a few weeks in the hospital that same young man is now organizing a global trip to eighty countries spread over six continents to exercise in front of historical venues–all in the name of suicide prevention and mental health awareness?

Okay, I understand that the second part of the story feels more like a Hollywood script for a 'feel good movie' than anything resembling reality. But that's only because you haven't heard about Josh Quigley yet.

Josh-quigley.tartar.png

Yes, Josh Quigley is his name and his campaign is called "The Tarter Explorer." Last week, he reached out to Mental Health Justice and asked if we would help tell his story. Now, asking us if we would tell his mental health story is like asking spring flowers if they would like some sun.

So here's Josh's story:

This video may shock or surprise a lot of people. This year I tried to take my own life after struggling with depression and mental health problems. Over the years we've all lost friends or family through suicide, because there's so much stigma around mental health and people are scared to ask for help or support. So I decided I wanted to go public with my story, to help other people who are suffering and encourage people to start talking about mental health. Not everyone will be as lucky as I was and it's time we done something about it. So I'm taking some time out of SharkDog, to go all around the world to promote mental health awareness. Please watch my video to hear about my global challenge. It's took me 6 months to get to a position where I feel comfortable talking about this, so your help and support would mean the world to me. I'd also appreciate if people could be kind enough to share this video to help me raise awareness. Thank you

Posted by Josh Quigley on Monday, November 2, 2015

We'd like to invite Josh and 'The Tartar Explorer' campaign to visit us in California to exercise for suicide prevention. Maybe jog across the Golden Gate Bridge? Maybe hike up to the Hollywood sign? We are open. If anyone else would like to invite him to their city, let us know soon as he's planning his trip now.

As for Josh Quigley, you've had quite the year. Here's to life and see you soon!

Mental Health Justice. No stigma, no judgment. Everyone is welcome.

Dolores 

Sarah Silverman on why it is not so funny to be depressed.

It feels like I’m terribly homesick, but I’m home. There’s no way to satiate it.”
— Sarah Silverman on depression.

For over twenty-three years, I worked as an educational lobbyist. The world of lobbying in California is still a man's world.  Because of that experience, I seem to have developed a special female antenna to recognize a tough woman when I see one. That's probably why I have so much respect for the comedian and actress, Sarah Silverman. Sarah's wit is always irreverent, honest, brave and super funny.

Recently, Sarah discussed her lifelong struggle with depression in an interview on National Public Radio's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I am particularly struck with the fact that her treatment was misdiagnosed for so many years. At age 13 she was prescribed Xanax and at age 14 she was taking 16 pills everyday!  Wow!  And, for anyone who has ever been severely depressed, Sarah's insight on what that feels like is absolutely pin point.

Sarah Silverman's latest creative venture is not a comedy but a drama about a woman who is severely depressed titled, I Smile Back.  We look forward to the film and we thank you, Sarah Silverman, for her bravery and candid insights. 

Our Mental Health Justice community smiles back because the more we tell our stories the more we understand each other and others understand us. 

Mental health justice. No stigma, no judgment. Everyone is welcome.

Dolores. 

Taylor Lewis has an incredible tale of bipolar despair, of recovery, of faith and of song.

Taylor Lewis is a very brave twenty-something young woman from Orange County, CA.  

I stand in confidence now knowing I no longer let my illness define my life. It took years for me to recover, but through this whole process I have learned how valuable and influential sharing my story can be.”
— Taylor Lewis
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For much of her young life, the gentle and affable Lewis has struggled with depression and bipolar disorder. Her condition led to many battles with suicidal thoughts and extreme social anxiety.

I was terrified of being around people, of living my life out loud. As a result everyday I held back and surrendered to my disease.”

Her story of recovery did not happen overnight. She credits her recovery to seven years of "baby steps," many which included despair healed only by late night songwriting. After seven years, she finally found the physical help, through medical science, and the emotional wisdom, through her faith in God, to heal.  

Taylor's faith has manifested in the deeds of songwriting and missionary work.

I traveled the world sharing my faith and my story in prisons, in churches, and in schools. I found the power of my voice. That’s what I hope to do. I hope to use my voice to, not only end the stigma of mental health, but also to give people hope for recovery.”

Taylor Lewis–we salute your courage, your musical talent, and your passionate faith. We also salute a spirit, that no doubt, was put on this planet to show that love is born of recovery and grows as we sacrifice for others in the pursuit of mental health justice.

Dolores.

 

At five, her mental illness story started. She was already a victim of sexual abuse.

My name is Stephanie Michelle Letteer.

I live in the Inland Empire about two hours east of Los Angeles, California. I suffer from bipolar, borderline personality and obsessive-compulsive disorders. I have also experienced PTSD, postpartum depression and drug addiction. I was self-destructive and suicidal for years and looked death in the eye many times. Twice, death looked back at me as I nearly died after overdosing on my psychiatric meds.

This is my story.

When I was five years old, I was sexually abused. Obviously, that was a terrible trauma–especially for such a young child. I almost immediately began to feel the anxiety-related symptoms of PTSD. But I wasn't sure if what I felt was abnormal. At eight-years old that changed. I knew something was definitely wrong–I became obsessed with suicide.

I had a system.

I used the closet door in my room as a gallows. I would employ whatever I could find–a tie, a belt, or a scarf­– as my rope and noose. I would tie the noose around my neck and wildly swing my body on the door. It never worked. I became more obsessed. I continued looking for any means to help me carry out my own execution. Once I remember when driving down the road with my Aunt, I got so overwhelmed with anxiety that I took the seat belt and draped it around my neck and pulled. That didn't work either. I felt so alone. I felt I didn't belong in this world. I really just wanted to die.

I began to see shadows.

Around the same time that my suicidal obsession started, I also began to see shadows. Seeing shadows is one of the first warning signs of a serious psychosis in young people. I told my mother that I had started to see shadows and was feeling a deep emptiness. She dismissed my concerns and told me I was just trying to garner attention. I reached out to others. But everyone just took my illness and swept it under the proverbial rug. The stigma of mental illness is strong and it seems no one wants to admit a family member has serious mental health issues. But that attitude doesn't help anyone and causes a lot of unnecessary suffering.

I turned to self-medicating with over-the-counter pills and cutting myself to satisfy my self-destructive obsessions.

For several years, I fooled myself into thinking I was getting better. Imagine, if a therapist gave you a recovery plan that included abusing over-the-counter medications and cutting slices into yourself. But that was my self-recovery plan and I was desperately okay until I turned eighteen and my psychosis returned like a pack of rabid wolves. 

I began a relationship with a man. At first it was beautiful. But soon the rabid wolves entered into our day-to-day lives. The relationship turned verbally abusive. Most of my family had had enough of my “not normal” behavior and me. They disowned me. I was on my own. I felt so betrayed. I began to cut myself deeper and deeper. This seemed like a metaphor for my life. The more pain I felt the deeper I cut. I couldn't control myself.

Finally, after a cutting incident a friend picked up the phone and called 911.

The ambulance took me to a psychiatric ward. It was the first time that someone offered me real help. The process of recovery was painful and took a long time. I was initially put on psychiatric medication that didn't work. My illness persisted. But my relationship had calmed. Instead of huge fights, my boyfriend would call 911 and I would be taken back in the psych ward for help. That hardly seems like progress, but it was.

Still, in between my stays at the psych ward, I continued my self-destructive behavior. Before it got any better, my condition got really bad. I put those self-destructive behavior on steroids. I decided I would end my problems by standing in front of a bus. I did it. The bus slammed on its brakes and stopped before it could kill me. It may seem like I would have realized that if the bus driver saw me he would stop; but I was completely serious about ending my life that way and wasn't trying to be dramatic. The way I figured it is that everyone would be better off if I was gone. This cycle of hospitalization and destructive behavior lasted for about two years.

Then I got pregnant. 

I would like to say that my pregnancy instantly changed the way I felt. It didn't. But I did stop cutting myself and taking my meds (they were not working anyway.)  My moods, however, would swing wildly and my relationship with my boyfriend regressed and the verbal altercations made a dramatic comeback.

The day I gave birth I felt as alone as I ever had. But my beautiful baby boy gave me hope. That hope was short-lived. I soon entered into my same cycle of abusive thinking and behavior. I returned to the hospital. I thought I was getting better. The meds seemed to be working. But then just like a baseball hit me square in the forehead BAM, I overdosed on my anxiety medications. I was rushed to the hospital and had my stomach pumped. I only remember telling my boyfriend that I love him and hearing my little boy desperately cry out, "Mommy!"

That incident was the final straw for me.

I would either recover or I would leave my little boy to grow up without the love of his mother. My breakthrough was realizing I was addicted to my anxiety meds. If you're addicted to your meds, that's pretty good indication they're not working. I do need the right meds to control my condition. So, a really good psychiatrist prescribed effective medications and I have been in recovery for a year-and-a-half now.

Today, I have a new life.

I wake up everyday excited to be able to communicate with my boyfriend in a loving and peaceful manner. I wake up everyday excited to see what new thing my son will say or do­–­–excited about how much more I will love him each day. The only thing I am still anxious about is being able to share my triumph over mental illness with others. To be able to tell others in my same position that you're not abnormal, you're just sick and like any other disorder with the right treatment you can and will get better, you can overcome. So I am no longer anxious about my story because I just shared it with you.  Maybe it's a blemished rock. But it's also a rock that has been polished into a gem that's now shiny and beautiful.

My name is Stephanie.

I suffer from bipolar, borderline personality and obsessive-compulsive disorders. I have also experienced PTSD, postpartum depression and drug addiction.

That's my story.  My story is a triumph.  Yours can be too! 

 

 

Mental Health Justice goes global and the rhythm is strong.

Art is not a study of positive reality, it is the seeking for ideal truth.”
— John Ruskin

One of the most amazing parts of participating of Mental Health Justice is that I'm constantly being surprised. Because of society's attitude toward mental illness and the concomitant dysfunction of our mental health care system, many times my surprises are rooted in how far we must still go to remove stigma and how steep are the challenges of reforming the tangled web of mental health care in the United States. 

Still, most of the surprises I receive are wonderful–Jasmine's Pierre's video telling us that suicide is not the way, Evan Miller telling us that watching Lori Bernstein's video stopped him from committing suicide, the incredible response to our "Light your candle" for suicide prevention campaign, the equally incredible response to our "What if" campaign and the astonishing list of people telling their stories and being bold warriors in the battle against stigma–my surprises are nearly everyday.    

Earlier this week, surprise arrived like two blue birds chirping a morning song just outside my window. And these two blue birds flew in from an unlikely place–the United Kingdom.

Both socially conscious artists, Gavinder Mann and spoken word poet Rachael Nworkoro are part of a exciting social movement that's taking root in urban London. A movement of artists, ports and musicians using their art to educate society about mental illness, specifically telling their stories through words and lyrics. 

along came a fairy and said to me
sunshine look at the sky, let the birds pass you by
you’re thinking too much, you’re thinking too much
— Lyrics from Fairies by Gavin

Gavinder Mann, known by his artist pseudonym Gavin, is an rap/pop artist from the urban London borough of Ealing. Of Indian descent his life has been marked by, not only struggles racial discrimination, but also mental illness. Gavinder suffers from schizophrenia. He is in recovery. But four years ago, Gavinder was suffering a severe schizophrenic psychosis and became suicidal. He turned to his art for healing. One day after a long therapeutic walk, he returned home with the lyrics to Fairies committed to creative memory. As he puts it:

I was in a dark place and feeling suicidal and depressed. Yet after writing this song it cheered me up and I hope it can help cheer up anyone going through the same struggle.”
— Gavin
 

Then there's Rachel Nwokoro... 

...a twenty something woman from London and a powerful performance artist and poet. Rachel also is part of the burgeoning London urban scene where young people are telling their mental health stories through their art.

I have experienced the impacts of mental illness from several perspectives. And, as part of my own recovery and journey, I think it is important to send messages of support and empathy and to encourage conversation.
— Rachel Nwokoro

Earlier this year, Rachel suffered the loss of a close friend to suicide.  In her despair, she turned to her art and Project Semicolon.  The project is dedicated to continuing the sentence of our lives has spread across the globe. The following is her powerful narrative about the sublime meaning of the semicolon and the need to end stigma.

Knowing how hard it has been to talk to people that I love who are struggling and for me to open up myself, I am dedicated to mental health awareness education & to ending stigma. I’m proud of everyone who gets through a day.
— Rachel Nwokoro

For more poems from Rachel  https://youtu.be/P-Upl1noB2w.

I love surprises and I love the joy and hope expressed in these two wonderful pieces of music and spoken word. Thank you Gavinder and thank you Rachel.  Your bars and your soul are bangin! 

Mental Health Justice. No stigma, no judgment.  Everyone is welcome.

Dolores