When You Don’t Support Someone Struggling with Mental Illness

I have usually been on the receiving end of support when it comes to matters of the mind. My mental illness therapy and recovery has greatly relied on the encouragement of others, the push from loved ones to focus on getting better, the positive words and actions of my network to put this journey above all else.

I have recently found myself now on the giving end of support. This is new territory for me. It’s just as scary for me to offer support as it is for the other person facing a new journey to better mental health. One of the biggest obstacles I have to work through as I take on this support role is helping to instill the mindset of, “You come first. Don’t let anybody steer you off course. This is the right thing to do to get better.” Upon thinking about this more, I realized how sad of a reality this is. The reality of the naysayers, the one’s who “don’t get it” and want to make you feel their doubt and skepticism about your choice to seek help and recover. Then I stumbled upon this most excellent The Mighty article this morning on how supporting people with a mental illness is everybody’s business. So I knew I needed to expand upon this and write something. I can’t accept the disconnect I am seeing anymore, especially through my new personal experience. I want to tell you just how you play a role in the journey to mental health recovery. Yes you. All of you. Maybe not as a person who is a mental illness sufferer, but as a person who is a mother, father, sibling, lover, friend, relative, coworker, boss, acquaintance, store clerk, or passerby to someone who is.

When you don’t support someone with a mental illness:

  • You immediately assume there is something inherently “wrong” with them
  • You trivialize their struggles, often making a joke out of it or poking fun at their destructive habits
  • You ask invasive questions like, “What do you mean you have an appointment every week?” or “Why are you so emotional?” or “What’s gotten into you lately?”
  • You encourage and pressure tempting activities, like drinking or smoking, they are trying to become more mindful of, cut back on, or quit
  • You ignore the reality that is mental illness, and consider their behavior “dramatic”, “attention-seeking”, “weak”, or “incapable”
  • You fail to see how hard they are working on paving a healthier pathway through life by instead focusing on their hardships and behaviors they are dedicating so much of themselves to correct
  • You make internalizing their struggles easier
  • You allow their destructive, self-harming habits to seem more rational
  • You assume someone else will be there to support them, even if they won’t

When you do support someone with a mental illness:

  • You understand they are trying, no matter the level of effort
  • You accept that mental illness recovery and therapy is difficult. That it is not a joke. That it is life-changing and emotionally overwhelming. That it is crucial to staying alive and well
  • You don’t ask questions that warrant really personal, intimate answers. You wait to feel invited to discuss the issues at hand. You base conversations on their comfort level, not yours
  • You recognize that social activities for some can be addictions for others. You accept “no” for an answer. You even change your own behaviors around them to eliminate temptation during their recovery
  • You accept mental illness as truth. That is it not made up. That it is not an excuse. That it is medical. That is has scientific proof. That your inability to understand what it feels like does not change facts
  • You come to terms with their destructive behaviors as part of a bigger, rooted issue they are working to pry from the depths within and address. You don’t fixate on their shortcomings, but understand that bad habits take time to break and new habits take time to form
  • You allow them to feel comfortable in their struggles. You don’t isolate them as an outcast
  • You offer solutions to avoiding temptation. You offer a new perspective on how to cope. You realize everybody has problems and can always use advice, big or small
  • You don’t assume anybody else is in their court. You offer whatever level of help you can, relative to the relationship you hold with them. You don’t let them feel alone. You offer a glimmer of light in an otherwise dark period. You choose to support life

See the difference?

Mental illness affects all of us. Everybody. Whether you’re on the receiving end of support, or someone who needs to play a role – big or small – in someone else’s support network. We have to own this, not as segmented societal groups, but as humanity. Let’s do better.


Confronting 16 Truths About Me

Here we are, two months into the New Year, and the one resolution I have made for myself is to be honest. That branches off into many different arenas of my life. Being honest with myself is the top priority. I am now taking the time to assess my feelings and translate what they mean, then proceeding accordingly with positive actions and behaviors. Next in line is being honest with the rest of the world. This is not as easy for me.

I have a tendency to understand myself, my wants, my needs, my feelings and my beliefs, but project a completely different version of them to comply with whatever environment I am in during that moment. While this allows me to “fit in” temporarily and protect my insecurities, it has caused me to create a persona that often reigns victorious in the real world. Everyone else misses out on the authenticity I reserve for my most private and intimate experiences. Everyone but a select few is shielded from the purest form of “me.” While this has been a coping technique I have defaulted to for most of my life, I realize now that it is destructive and counterproductive to the rest of the progress I have been working so hard to make. I deserve to honor the evolution of myself intimately in my own solitude, but also outwardly for the world to see so they have the opportunity to accept the version of me I have been trying to achieve for 28 years.

Continuing on my journey to better mindfulness in 2016, I am confronting 16 truths about me here in this post. Some will make a significant impact, while others are light-hearted, matter-of-fact “Jill-isms” that I just want to share out loud. Regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, each is necessary in defining and helping others better understand my true being. So here we go.

  1. I make a ‘to-do’ list everyday
    While this is not uncommon for most, my ‘to-do’ list is how I define success for each day. I write down every single thing I intend to do with myself, and satisfyingly delete items as I complete them. I am, however, slowly learning to embrace the present and not rely on my list as the be-all end-all of each day.
  2. On the misophonia spectrum, I’m an 8/10
    For those unfamiliar, misophonia means ‘hatred of sound’ and is a fairly common and self-diagnosable disorder. I recently found this self-assessment test, and fell into the ‘Group 8’ bracket. What does this mean? I really can’t stand particular sounds to the point of anxiety and internal rage. I don’t usually act out (if I do, I typically blurt out something angrily), but if I appear extremely disgusted by someone’s loud chewing, crinkling candy wrapper, or drowned out bass-thumping – this is why. Please, don’t be offended.
  3. My home is always neat and tidy, except my bed
    People always comment when they come over that my house is so clean, organized, and well-decorated. While I take this as a compliment, I know the result of my excessively tidy nature is due to struggles with OCD as it relates to cleanliness and order. The one place I am able to find comfort in chaos for some reason is my bed. I never make it, except on the rare occasion my parents are coming over to visit. I like jumping into a pile of blankets and pillows, meshed together in the exact place I left them when I set out to begin my day. It retains the last moment of comfort and peace I had before facing the world, and it will be there to pick up right where I left off when I am ready to rest again. It’s my safe haven, my solace, and where I put my brain to rest. I preserve this as my sacred spot where my brain doesn’t win; where I can accept a bit of disorder and lack of control for comfort’s sake.
  4. I have fallen in love with an exercise for the first time and its name is yoga
    I have always watched those who practice yoga from afar, envying their agility and composure, thinking I could never handle such a patient, mindful format because I am too anxious and uptight. Well, duh, that’s the point of yoga — to bring yourself inward, increase your focus, and learn to slow yourself down. So I tried it in conjunction with meditation, and much to my surprise, I fell in love. Sure, the first few weeks weren’t ideal – I was fumbly, a little stressed, and not totally understanding “the point”. When I finally learned that yoga is ongoing, gradual, and evolving as you learn to master different poses and breathing techniques, I settled into my happy place. Yoga has increased my flexibility, taken away aches and pains, taught me how to shift my focus inward on myself, and take the time to relish in relaxing, restorative healing. The best part? I still have a lot to learn and uncover. I encourage anybody to try it and challenge you to tell me you didn’t learn to love it! 🙂
  5. I really want to play guitar at open mics, but my nerves don’t
    Every once in awhile I post a 15-second Instagram video when I’ve had enough wine to think I actually sound like a coffee shop-esque singing savant, but the truth is I have zero confidence in my musicianship. I enjoy playing guitar, I enjoy singing and I enjoy being musically creative – but can only manage to do so very intimately and privately. Considering people have complimented me on what I post online, I would really like to build my confidence and showmanship to ultimately reach the goal of playing out at open mics. Maybe just for a few close friends to start. Baby steps.
  6. I am afraid of hitting my goal weight
    Lots of people raise an eyebrow if they hear someone say this, but I can vouch that in addition to me, lots of people in my Weight Watchers meeting feel the same. Why is this? Because for lots of us, hitting our goal weight still feels like the magic trick that will cure our years of self-loathing, self-consciousness, and confidence issues. It’s as if a miracle brain switch will turn on when the scale lights up “GOAL WEIGHT” and poof – we’re no longer afraid to live in our own skin. But we all know this won’t happen – we know that hitting goal weight is only one piece of the puzzle. So I am afraid of the day my goal weight rolls around, knowing fully that my physical health achievement will be unlocked, but my brain might still be lagging behind the finish line. I am afraid to see my body indicate success and victory, while my mind may still look in the mirror and see a failure that hasn’t changed one bit.
  7. I have severe “only-child”syndrome
    I expect every person who is an only-child to understand this with no explanation, but for those of you who shared your childhood with others by  your side, you probably do not. One set of parents focused solely on you 24-7. One person to share your room with, your stuff with and your emotions with inside the intimate walls of your home. Two people who have dedicated their lives to making yours the best they can, and you wanting to make them proud with every choice, decision, and action. This has been my life for 28 years. Would I change it? Never ever. Does it make certain life experiences more difficult? Absolutely. I don’t do well with conflict – I never had to fight with anybody over anything, except the occasional friend. While I am not a spoiled brat, I do struggle with letting go of control and sharing responsibilities and commitments. I also still aim to impress my parents with every life choice, although I am coming to realize that they may not always understand why I do what I do or why I like what I like. But that’s okay. It’s a learning process and one I think many only children go through as they become adults. The most important thing we can do as people who are used to being alone is let others in more willingly, and communicate when we normally would not.
  8. I don’t know how to outwardly accept a compliment…yet
    This is tough for lots of people, but I think the thing that makes me the most frustrated at myself is not only do I deny a compliment, but I reply negatively in a way that cuts me down. I know this is very unflattering, and damages my own growth towards better self-esteem. A big turning point for me was a recent night when I bought some t-shirts with my boyfriend online. When they showed up we modeled them for each other, but, to my dismay, some of mine fit a little snug around my stomach. I immediately became super self-conscious and deflected every “Babe, they look great” comment with an insult to myself. When he got quiet moments later, I asked why he was acting withdrawn. He felt like he couldn’t say anything to make me feel better, and he was right. I had to make myself feel better. And then he looked me in the eye and said, “You’re hotter when you’re confident”. He hit me with the truth and it was everything I needed to hear. So I may not be great at receiving compliments just yet, but I am actively working on accepting them, and at least in the short-term, not responding in such a destructive way.
  9. I am an observer
    This is something I both love and hate about myself. I love watching others interact in some of the most honest, candid moments of their lives. Watching smiles erupt while people on the subway look at photos from last night’s party, or seeing a couple discretely having a disagreement at a department store over what bedsheets will breathe better in the summer heat. I enjoy these moments so much, mostly by myself, because it depicts life exactly for what it is – a series of events, connections, and experiences that, whether good or bad, are all we have. It allows me to feel connected to others, even if I am the quiet spectator who will never interact with those I am observing. It fuels my ability to write and create based on what I see. It allows me to feel relative to what is around me in that moment when I often feel isolated the rest of the time. To flip the switch, I also hate being an observer at times because it takes away from me being the one immersed in the experience. I can often get too focused on watching the world move by me, rather than moving with it. I easily justify leaving myself on the sidelines while everyone else is out on the field because I too readily rely on this identity. I am learning it’s all about balance. Thinking of others as onlookers is fascinating and exciting to me. So I need to learn to let go sometimes, and be the subject of someone else’s moment of observation.
  10. I go to therapy every Friday and it’s changing my life
    I am confident that the stigma of “I have a therapist” meaning “I am a complete nut case” is close to over. In today’s complicated, fast-paced world — who doesn’t have a therapist? But I know people are still afraid to talk about it the way they talk about going to the dentist – as if it’s not a matter-of-fact part of life. Well, it is. Our brains need regular check-ups and cleanings just like our teeth do. And for some of us, we need those check-ups a little more frequently to stay on track. Fridays at 2pm I shut off the rest of the world and I spend an hour on me, my thoughts, what they mean, how I feel, and what to make of it all. I meditate, I reflect, I speak openly, I don’t hold back. I analyze the way I speak, and the feelings that certain words evoke inside of me. I am slowly learning to accept my illness and willingly have the feelings it brings about, even though I may not always like them. This is how I am healing and growing and I am grateful to have found such a professional that I click with so well to help guide me towards better mental health.
  11. Some of my most vulnerable conversations happen with Internet friends
    It’s my job to sit on the Internet all day. It’s also my job to be on social media all day. This can be extremely oppressive and ruin the novelty of having personal profiles, but in some ways it has been an absolute blessing. In the last few months of opening up about my mental illness struggles, I have created a whole new network of confidants and “people who get it”. Some of these people I already knew, but just not in this way. Some are complete strangers I’ve met through mutual friends or blogging or Twitter. I spend a lot of my days keeping in contact with a handful of these people to stay motivated, mentally stimulated, and optimistic. Even if we don’t see each other in real life often, or ever, I don’t care. What we have is enough. What you give me is enough. You mean so very much to me and you help make each day valuable and meaningful. In 2016, friends are not defined by tangibility, but the experiences you share together, whether in person or over Facebook chat. You are all my friends and the greatest support network I really needed to find.
  12. I never call, text, or make plans first — but I want to
    I have great friends. I can most likely count all my friends on two hands, and my close friends on one. I don’t share myself with lots of people and I am a socially awkward introvert. So this all makes sense. But I also realize that being a friend is a two-way street. I know that my anxiety wishes it could always be a one-way street of receiving texts, calls, plans, and support. But I know that’s not right. I am a better friend than that. So I am making a promise to my friends that I will do better. I will text more often. I will call to say hello. I will try to think of fun plans whether it’s a night out or a wine date in with our favorite TV show. I will express until I am blue in the face that you can count on me for anything and that you never have to feel alone during a tough time. I am sorry my anxiety makes it seem like I don’t care, but I do. You make my world go round and make me feel wanted, loved, and included. It’s time for me to try really hard and do the same for you.
  13. After over a decade, I am full of bursting love
    I will save the details for a future Hallmark card, but loving and feeling loved back is a tremendous part of anyone’s life. It can make life richer and more fulfilling to share it with others by your side. Oppositely, a departure from any important relationship can crumble everything else around you. That’s happened. It will happen again with more people in my lifetime. But presently, I am so flooded with happiness. I’m happy I get to love with my genuine self, all of myself, and share it with many people in my life. But also, I get to love someone that I have a strong, authentic connection with, a connection that has withstood the test of time, turmoil, and transformation. I feel alive knowing I get to choose who to love, and I am so full of gratitude to feel it in return in the way I have always dreamt of.
  14. I told myself with conviction “you look pretty” for the first time on Christmas
    I teetered on if I would include this truth, as it is highly personal and intimate for me, but then I realized it would resonate with so many people that I would regret not sharing. For my whole life, I haven’t ever been able to compliment myself authentically, nor have I been able to really accept one from other people. I can superficially tell myself my makeup looks nice, or my outfit is awesome, or my butt fits well in a pair of pants – but usually it’s in some jokey manner that disassociates the reality of feeling inadequate more often than not. Self-esteem and body confidence has been a huge goal of mine to work towards and stick to since the summer, and I am so happy with my progress. But even with visible progress I can’t always bring myself to feel and emote such success. But I did on Christmas. I woke up in my empty house, with three cats and no Christmas tree. I did morning yoga. I showered. I decided to try on a dress from three years ago that is my favorite, but also became too small. It fit. I began to put on my makeup and do my hair. I looked up in the mirror when I was finished and the words “you look really pretty” fell out of my mouth. Then I cried a little. Then I sobbed. I didn’t need a Christmas tree, or someone to wake up to on Christmas morning, or anything at all to symbolize the day in that moment. The best gift was feeling adequate to myself for the first time ever, and I am so proud to understand what that is now.
  15. Everyday is a battle to get out of bed and pursue my goals
    I actually just discussed this with a lovely coworker over lunch and it rings true for more people than you might think. When people say “getting out of the house today was such a struggle”, some people are exaggerating to express their lack of motivation, or just the fact that they are having a bad day. Some people, like me, mean it literally. When you face depression every day as I do, waking up isn’t usually sunny, refreshing, or motivating. It’s anxiety-inducing and overwhelming to think about how to make it 24 more hours when 30 minutes in the shower can feel like climbing a mountain. Being stuck in bed with no hope of leaving is real. Small mundane tasks, like putting on clothes or makeup, feeling extremely overwhelming is real. Having chronic depression that inhibits the small things we can take for granted is real. I am grateful that for almost four months straight I have been able to get up and out of bed every single day and go after what’s ahead of me. But there will always be someone struggling to do so. Look out for them.
  16. I am very afraid the world won’t love the “#nofilter” version of me
    As much as I’ve evolved in the last few months to be the most authentic version of myself, I still have moments where I mentally freeze at the thought of how others perceive me. I can’t be perfect at this, which I have come to accept, being human and all. But I have to be truthful about it. As much as I want the world to see the parts of me I have been inclined to hide, I also realize my support system will be matched with critics. Sometimes this won’t matter to me, but sometimes it will. But I’m hopeful the urge to conform and avoid such discomfort from the naysayers will begin to wane by embarking on this writing exercise. I will always choose to be me first.

There’s not much else to say except I am grateful to have an outlet where I can speak my truths, and to thank you for spending the time reading any of it. As time continues to unfold, I will hold on to this 2016 goal and not let it fade by the side of the fickle gym-goers and diet-doers. I am going to try my hardest to honor these 16 truths out in the world, everyday, no matter what is surrounding me. And I promise I will be honest a year from now, when reflecting on how I did. 🙂

Mental Illness Awareness Week

It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week and We all Need to Talk About it

My father sent me an email this morning with just a link to a Salem News Letter to the Editor. It was an important gesture for him to send it to me, and now I feel compelled to share it with the rest of you. But I want to take it a step further. I don’t want you to just read the link that I could have easily posted to my social media channels. I want you to more than see what the words mean beyond the two paragraphs written in the link. I want you to understand it. Understand it from someone who is living the exact purpose of the letter: a person battling mental illness who experiences the firsthand stigma it has created.

This week (October 4-10) is Mental Illness Awareness Week. The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Mass) wants to make you aware that mental illness affects 1 in 4 adults. I will make you aware that I am 1 of those 4 adults. NAMI Mass also conducted a survey that reveals some disappointing results – although mental illnesses are the leading cause of disability in the workplace, only 27% of people feel comfortable talking about their mental illness at work. I am luckily 1 person in that 27%. Let me be honest, though, I did not start talking about my mental illness until a week ago, when I was at my breaking point, when I was in crisis mode. That’s not the best approach. That’s not when I should have been speaking up. And this is why we need to talk about it.


The stigma of mental illness is still very real. People get uncomfortable being around those with a mental illness. Some feel unsafe. Some perceive it as a sign of weakness, or a vain indulgence of one’s self. Some seclude and ignore those who are suffering. Why do people do this? Two reasons: because they don’t experience it firsthand and they can’t see it tangibly on the outside. The problem here is that we can comparatively take a physically noticeable ailment, like paralysis or cancer, and even if we don’t know what it feels like to experience these firsthand, we can see the toll it takes on a person’s body. We can then empathize, accommodate and advocate for a better quality of life for these sufferers. For the mental illness sufferer, the struggle and toll occurs on the inside of the body – where nobody can truly see the distress and degeneration. When the results of mental illness are projected to the outside world, they are still intangible: stress, crying, yelling, withdrawn behavior, sadness, fear, paranoia, nerves, etc. And unfortunately, when the results of mental illness are left untreated and advance to display a physical toll on the outside, it is in the darkest moments when sufferers are most misunderstood and unaccepted: self-harming, harming others, alcoholism, drug addiction, attempted suicide, death.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Massachusetts says only 52.8% of affected adults seek treatment. This is not okay. All mental illness sufferers should have the resources, opportunities and encouragement to seek treatment just as anybody with a physical illness does. Treatment in 2015 is vast. It comes in many forms. Therapies, medications, alternative healing, herbal medicine and many more are widely available, but not often obvious and accessible. Work benefits that support mental illness treatment and HR services are also not widely communicated across companies or encouraged to be used. Again, we need to change this. Addiction, harm and suicide should not be considered an option. It will always be a thought for a mental health sufferer, but there are ways to make it from becoming a reality.

Let me bring this back to my experience. I’ve suffered from chronic anxiety and depression since I was 14. I struggled in my teen years to find a productive way to cope. I self-harmed often and rejected therapy. As a young adult, I suffered more and had some difficult experiences with prescription psych medication, addiction and therapy. Today, I am still battling anxiety and depression along with panic and mild OCD, but I have learned through the aid of my family and boyfriend, doctors and a supportive workplace, to seek appropriate treatment. I am in therapy. I am working on an alternative medicine approach. I am taking time off work to focus on me and to heal. I have a team of people behind me pushing me towards success. I was ashamed at first to bring this to my workplace, to try and convey what I was suffering. But once I did, the overwhelming support was shocking. I was encouraged to take the time. I was explained my benefits and rights I have from my employer. I was messaged by multiple coworkers in support of my needs. I was not a victim of this stigma that so many others are.

I am a girlfriend, a daughter, cat mom, marketing professional, friend, artist, writer, thinker and dreamer. I am not an incapable, burdening, unproductive, dangerous, self-indulgent basket case. I have a mental illness, but I am not “mental.” I am not afraid of what people will say or think of me. I have a voice and will fight for those who can’t find theirs just yet.

Mental Illness Awareness Week ends on Saturday, but the conversation will continue for a lifetime. I guarantee you know at least one person suffering. Heck, most of you reading this know me. But beyond our relationship, there are most likely others in your life suffering, maybe even you. I encourage you to advocate for those people, or yourself, and take the necessary steps to ensure proper treatment. I also encourage you to tell 3 other people the statistics I’ve shared about mental illness in this post to continue breaking the stigma that this isn’t real, and that those suffering don’t deserve the same rights as the physically ill. This is real. We all deserve to feel healthy, inside and out.

A few more links that can help:

NAMI Massachusetts (local resources and support)

To Write Love on Her Arms (my favorite supporting nonprofit)

Anxiety and Depression Association of America (where I’ve learned a lot about my conditions)

Additionally, program in your phone 1-800-SUICIDE. It’s a hotline that will always be there for you.

Thanks for reading, and more importantly, for understanding.

Escaping the Social Media Lens: My Real Year in Review

It’s with no surprise that this week’s media is cluttered with “top 10” posts to recap the year, but Facebook has been put in the spotlight for their “Year in Review” playback of your own 2014. We’re all going to be spammed by an unfortunate amount of our friends with these slideshows, that’s just how social media works. But one thing we can all agree on is that while Facebook is really good at aggregating our most engaging posts on social media, it doesn’t know anything beyond the blue gates of its own News Feed when it comes to what our lives are really about. And considering I spent 50% of 2014 being inactive or completely deactivated from Facebook, I am doing myself a disservice if I choose to represent the hardest year of my life through a social media lens. Here are the main takeaways from the last 365 days of my life, whether I “liked” it or not.

Love can never be steered, but only followed.
Once the New Year turned in 2014, I immediately went from planning a wedding to splitting up with the person I was about to give my life to forever. The impending nuptials were a way for me to face the problems in our relationship that we kept avoiding, and ultimately realize that marriage is a 100% promise. I journeyed through a rebound relationship that was volatile, a series of turbulent emotions, and a passing wedding date that will now never represent anything. I learned to face my own demons, and he his, and we found our way back to each other again in the later portion of the year. Despite my ability to make that sound like a “happily ever after,” we’re nowhere near perfect. We do, however, see love in a new light and that makes a year of heartache worth it.

Disconnecting is ok.
In the age of being “always connected,” it’s really hard to find some fucking privacy. It’s also really hard to cut cords with those that no longer add positive value to your life. This year I needed a heavy dose of both to progress forward, rather than sink deeper into my demons. I remember the day I actually committed to using the “block” button on my iPhone and never looking back. It felt really GOOD. It doesn’t mean that I will never encounter an ex-fling or friend ever again, but at least in moments of weakness I will no longer rely on those that are toxic. I also really struggled with how to deal with my broken relationship when many people were following my wedding plans on social media. As much as we all want to feel superior to the Internet, we share some of the most important moments of our lives there for all to see. When those moments don’t play out accordingly, it’s hard to admit that in a public setting. Dan and I sat down and planned our message together to announce our canceled wedding and separation, and then we both deactivated our accounts shortly after. At that point, I needed to search within myself to see how my life was supposed to evolve, rather than script it for a News Feed. I spent nearly half of this year off Facebook, and those months were crucial to Dan and I resolving our issues. Disconnecting is really important, and some of the best memories you make don’t end up online.

I faced, then embraced, my mental health issues.
Mental health is a really big issue that I advocate for, mostly because I suffer from chronic anxiety and depression. That means no matter how I alter my life, I will always feel both to some degree as long as I live. I was fortunate to spend many of the past 6 years with very mild symptoms, but this year they both really crept in as I worked through my hardships. In 2014 I had a panic attack, something I hadn’t experienced in 4 years, in front of someone I barely knew. I struggled to cope with my feelings and turned to alcohol, which led me to drinking a bottle of wine or more each night for about 3 months. I struggled with prescriptions for a short while, and spent many weekends inside, feeling the worst social anxiety I had ever experienced.

One of the biggest reasons I was able to pull myself out of the dark and feel alive again was finally swallowing my pride and committing to therapy. I have never seen a therapist for more than two sessions, always feeling disconnected from the robot staring back at me, as well as denying they could actually help. This year I found the most incredible woman who always stayed focused on me, and approached solutions with an unbiased view. She has helped me over so many of these hurdles I’ve detailed, hurdles I’ve faced head on by myself. If there’s anything I feel truly proud about this year, it’s this. Knowing that I’ve stabilized my mental health, and avoided relying on medication to numb the pain, is such an incredible victory.

I still have my struggles, and I will for the rest of my life, but I’m not afraid to talk about it. This year we saw a little stir in the worldwide conversation regarding mental health, much in part to the devastating passing of Robin Williams, but it’s not enough. I really hope we can get to a point where we don’t just dump ice water on our heads or put ordinary people on the covers of popular magazines because we want to end physical suffering. We need to support ending all suffering, whether we can tangibly see it or not. There are more Robin Williams-es out there than we really, truly know.


Do not succumb to the norm no matter who is watching.
This year has really shown me that peer pressure exists long after those 14-year-old moments of being persuaded to try a cigarette. Even as adults when we feel like we’re in control of our lives, we’re not as self-aware as we let others believe. We still feel pressured to go to college, get the good job, settle down in marriage with some kids, and live the American Dream. Unfortunately, that’s not many of our dreams, and I really have no intentions of doing my life that way. I’ve learned what’s important to me: finding a passion within my career that allows for growth and challenge each new day. Finding a love that’s mutual, where it transcends all that is tangible, like wedding rings and social media validation. Finding a spark that keeps my creativity burning, and endless possibilities that will never let it be stifled. Finding a richness in life where you can leave your comfort zone and face the world 100% as yourself — to not cower back into the cookie cutter norm when lots of people are too afraid of their own selves to agree with your fearless choices.

I still don’t love myself.
We will never enter a new year perfectly closing the previous chapter. As much as I’ve seen positive changes come out of such tremendous darkness, I have beat myself up along the way. Two years ago I was thriving in a weight-loss journey that left me feeling physically healthy and happy, and now I’ve found myself back to the starting line. It’s hard to balance mental and physical health, especially when you struggle with both, and this year I had to favor my mental stability over taking care of the outside version of me. It hurts to know I’ve made so much progress within, which cannot be reflected by the subpar exterior version of myself. I have a lot of work to do to bring myself to a happy place physically while also learning to embrace how I am right now. As we turn the corner and enter 2015, I’m not going to resolve to “go to the gym” and “juice cleanse once a month” or any of that shit that doesn’t make it past the first week. I’m just going to resolve to love myself, and inevitably change will occur in order for me to do just that.

So there you have it – 2014 was without a doubt the hardest year I’ve faced in my entire life. It showed me that no matter how in control you think you are, life doesn’t always play by your rules. No matter how much you filter something for publicity’s sake, it’s not truly perfect or beautiful. No matter how much you think you know yourself, there’s always opportunity to learn more. And these are the things Facebook’s Year in Review won’t tell you. I hope you “like” my version much better.

Cheers to the next 365 days of our lives, and may they let us achieve what we’ve set out to do today.

Salem Willows

Chapter 27 Begins

I originally started this blog 57 days before my birthday with the intentions of picking up the pieces of my life, a prologue of sorts. I succeeded in preparing myself for new discoveries, new outlooks, and new beginnings. 57 days is not a lot of time in the grand scheme of life, but was exactly what I needed.

Now, Chapter 27 is here.

This weekend I not only celebrated another candle on the cake, but learning to live and love all over again. The best gifts were not wrapped, the best moments were not filtered, the best feelings were not interrupted. I can only show you a glimpse into some of my celebrations over the past few days, but know that my heart is full. This has been a year of turmoil, in which the impending date of September 13 only seemed to symbolize leading myself down the rabbit hole for another year. To celebrate triumph, however, was that one extra candle on the cake, for good luck and good fortune. To quote Alice herself, “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” It’s nice to know we both were able to leave that rabbit hole behind, and find our sense of wonder again.

For now, I will leave you with the visual representation of what my first days of Chapter 27 looked like. And here’s to many, many more.


Cosmetic Psychopharmacology Took Over my 20s and Now I’m Getting Out (Part I)

I recently discovered one of the better Thought Catalog posts buried in their growing daily collection of male and female bashing/love advice that inspired me to tell my own story. I didn’t even understand the topic until I dove into the content, soon realizing I was unwillingly a part of this “Cosmetic Psychopharmacology” culture.

To quickly define, that mouthful refers to a term “coined in 1990 by the psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer … [referring to] the use of drugs to move persons from a normal psychological state to another normal state that is more desired or better socially rewarded.” This is often thought of in the same manner as plastic surgery; going from “undesirable” to “beautiful” via physical enhancements to meet conventional standards.

Happy Pills

Just recently I’ve come to terms with and reflected upon an 8-year experience that is unnervingly relatable to the OP: I’m coming off psychoactive drugs and I can feel every bit of the process. What I mean by that is the withdrawal is a real (often surreal) experience, and mirrors the effects of actually feeling a lot WORSE than when I was initially “saved” by these happy pills. I’d like to talk about this experience in two parts, one from the medical perspective of a drug review, and one from a personal perspective of how said drug affected me for nearly a decade. The drug spotlight is on Risperdal, an antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia and symptoms of bipolar disorder.

We’ll begin with a bit of context. For one, I am not bipolar, nor schizophrenic. I also do not have autism (which this drug has also been used to treat). I was diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety, with a focus on racing thoughts, when I was 20 years old. I was initially put on Klonopin, a drug that affects chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced and cause anxiety and panic disorders. The problem with this was simple: I was a 20-year old that had never been able to manage their anxiety for 7 years in a healthy way, and I was put on a drug that is highly addictive (it’s one of those coveted scripts any pill-popper would die to buy from you). So, addiction happened, and really fast. I don’t think I made it 4 days without abusing the shit out of this medication, which led to a re-evaluation of my mental health, and my drug cocktail.

The new solution was a combo of Celexa (an anti-depressant) paired with Risperdal. The Risperdal dosage was much smaller than Celexa’s, however the intensity of the drug far surpassed its partner. To put it in perspective: when I went on the medication, the doctor did forewarn I would be quite drowsy, as Risperdal is primarily a sedative. Drowsy was an understatement. I slept for nearly 3 days straight. My parents and I were mid-conversation one of those days and I nearly fell out of my chair as I passed out fully upright. Fast forward 8 years on the drug, and this temporary effect was the least of my worries. Here’s a list of Risperdal’s side effects. Everything in bold is one that I’ve experienced over the last 8 years, some of which have lasted the entire duration:

  • aggressive behavior
  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • changes in vision, including blurred vision
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • inability to move the eyes
  • increase in amount of urine
  • loss of balance control
  • mask-like face
  • memory problems
  • muscle spasms of the face, neck, and back
  • problems with urination
  • restlessness or need to keep moving (severe)
  • shuffling walk
  • skin rash or itching
  • stiffness or weakness of the arms or legs
  • tic-like or twitching movements
  • trembling and shaking of the fingers and hands
  • trouble sleeping
  • twisting body movements
  • back pain
  • chest pain
  • sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arms, or legs
  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • extreme thirst
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • fast, weak heartbeat
  • headache
  • lip smacking or puckering
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle cramps
  • pale, clammy skin
  • poor coordination
  • puffing of the cheeks
  • rapid or worm-like movements of the tongue
  • shivering
  • unusual bleeding or bruising
  • constipation
  • cough
  • diarrhea
  • dry mouth
  • increased dream activity
  • increased length of sleep
  • nausea
  • sleepiness or unusual drowsiness
  • sore throat
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • unusual tiredness or weakness
  • weight gain
  • absent, missed, or irregular menstrual periods
  • breast swelling or soreness
  • darkening of skin color
  • decreased interest in sexual intercourse
  • joint pain
  • loss in sexual ability, desire, drive, or performance
  • loss of voice
  • oily skin
  • pain or tenderness around the eyes and cheekbones
  • stomach pain
  • toothache

Okay, so first of all: holy shit – that is a long list of issues to encounter when taking a medication (63). Secondly, I have experienced 35 of these side effects while on-boarding, continually using, and withdrawing from Risperdal. In other words, more than 50% of the side effects this drug kindly offers I have suffered! Knowing what I know now, what I have been through, and how I feel, this drug significantly hurt me more than helped me. At which point was there a discussion with me, or my parents (considering I was not in the best health), about such side effects? At which point was it explained why this drug was the “solution” given its irrelevancy to my diagnosis? There was none. There was no conscious effort to alert me or my family of what this drug could potentially do to me, and what my other options were.

“Take this and you’ll feel better,” is said in variations to those of us that are ailing as we’re handed a piece of paper that is the gateway to our newfound happiness. And we, in our moment of weakness, trust it. But is it really a happy pill after all if it causes 35 problems when setting out to fix just 1?

Happy Pills

In the second part of this topic, I will dive into more detail on how the bolded effects above impaired me, and how getting out of Cosmetic Psychopharmacology is the right choice for me. Until then, I hope this gives a little insight for those that are taking psychoactive drugs to assess the help vs. hurt they, too, are experiencing in their journey to a better mental state of being.

I was Supposed to Get Married Today

Today is August 30, 2014 and it was supposed to be my wedding day. I was planning a whimsical day of nuptials at Coney Island, with roller coaster vows, a food truck caterer, and a reception connected to the famous Freak Show theater. I was going to wear a polka dot dress, hold a bouquet of pinwheels, and forever give myself away to someone I love. All of that isn’t happening. Except the last part. That’s still happening, just not according to plan.

Earlier this year I canceled my wedding plans. Took back my vendor deposits. Took off my ring. This led to me deciding to separate completely from my significant other. To move out. To try dating someone else. To forget the last four years of our lives because things were broken. I thought they were irreparably broken. I thought doing something new and fresh would relieve my symptoms of monotony, frustration, unhappiness. I thought I would rediscover myself instead of continually sinking my own individuality for a relationship that wasn’t what it used to be. I thought it would be a breath of fresh air. In actuality, the last 8 months have felt like breathing while someone’s holding a plastic bag over my head. And as each day went on, the bag got a little tighter, the breath a bit more recycled, the will to try and carry on life in that way a lot less desirable.

I realized I was not satisfied with the current state of our relationship upon ending a wedding and long term commitment. But I also realized that I became significantly more destructive and miserable without him. And I learned that love doesn’t quit.

Love isn’t flawless, flaws empower and keep it honest. Love takes its makeup off at the end of the day, love bares it all: pimples, oily hair, stretch marks, tears, chipped nail polish, bad breath, smelly feet. Love is feeling on top of the world in your best outfit and lipstick, love is feeling next to nothing in sweatpants and a hoodie, and love is all those other in between moments. Love is #nofilter. Love is being offline. Love thrives in times of happiness, but doesn’t cower in times of distress. Love doesn’t care what those on the outside think. Love doesn’t stop unless it isn’t real to begin with. Love understands when mistakes are made, love understands when you slip away. The thing about love is it won’t let you forget what you abandoned. Every new situation you put yourself in, you compare, you analyze, you don’t feel 100% yourself. That’s because you left a bit of you behind.

Despite going through some very unimaginable things in a short 7 months that felt terribly long,  I feel undeniably grateful that I found that little bit of me that was missing. And it was where I left her all along. He kept her safe, he kept her close. We just needed a new perspective, and a new approach to what was always there.

So today is August 30, 2014 and it was supposed to be our wedding day. He will be going to tech someone else’s wedding at his job (how ironic). Then we’ll be going to a lobster bake with my family. We will end the evening with cats and Netflix. It might be lacking the frills and finesse of what we had originally planned, but one thing will still happen today as originally intended: we will still say “I love you” and we will still mean it. And that is why I can’t be upset. Although I’m really pissed I can’t get a Nathan’s hot dog on the Coney Island boardwalk. You win some, you lose some — I’ll get over the hot dog. 🙂

I love you. Thank you for being my light at the end of a very dark tunnel. I’m glad we’ve found the surface, again.

He and She