Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Reflections on Robin Williams' Suicide, One Year Later

I still vividly remember walking out of a water park with my two sons one year ago today, checking my phone, and learning that Robin Williams had taken his life.  I couldn't comprehend it, I wanted to believe it wasn't true.  It couldn't be true.  But it was, and it haunted me for several weeks.  It is still very sad to me now.  It's still hard for me to watch his movies or TV shows.  It is sad because he touched my life and the lives of millions.  It is sad because he did so much good in the world, and it seemed he still had so much to give.  The same can be said of every one of the 40,000 people who choose to take their lives each year.  They all still had more to give, but the pain and suffering just became too much.  

Most, if not all, who take their lives do not have the fame, fortune, and reach of Robin Williams.  However, each of these people have parents, siblings, friends and loved ones left behind.  I have never experienced the loss of someone that close to me to suicide, but I know that those who do are scarred for life.  They experience extreme guilt, sadness, and regret.  And I'm sure much more.  While there is likely healing over time, I'm told by those who have experienced this type of loss that the pain is always there. 

Perhaps the one truth that stands out to me as I reflect on this day is the intense power of depression.  Robin Williams had everything.  He had fame, money, family, adoration, and an incredible amount of talent.  It was still no match for the depression and despair he must have felt that led him to take his own life.  Mental illness does not discriminate, it is an equal opportunity illness.  We are all vulnerable.

It is often said that you have to be strong to fight mental illness.  And I think that's true.  I know my experiences have strengthened and challenged me.  However, for me it is equally, if not more, important to acknowledge my weakness in my fight against depression and anxiety.  I am extremely fortunate that the medication I take really controls my symptoms, and that the work I have done in life has healed many of the emotional scars I developed from growing up with this illness.  I have not experienced a major episode of depression in nearly 4 years.  At some points, my head even tries to trick me into believing it is gone altogether.  It's not.

However, I have a consistent awareness that I still have the illness.  I know it can strike at any moment, and that it is more powerful than I am.  When I have symptoms, negative thoughts, or signals I have learned can lead to an episode I don't try to "fight" them off.  Suppressing them or blaming myself only makes things worse.  I listen to them.  I let them be with the knowledge that they usually pass.  I remind myself that it is the illness, and that there is nothing wrong with me.  And when none of that works, or it becomes too hard, I get support.  Through therapy, writing, talking to a friend, or sharing it in an online support group where I know I will be understood and affirmed.  Thankfully this continues to work for me.

I'm mindful that it doesn't work for everyone.  Not all people experience depression the same way, and not all depression responds to treatment.  Some people can go to therapy, get support, eat well, exercise, take their medication, and still experience intense depression.  It is not their fault.  It's not because they are weak.  They have an illness, as do I. And at times, as it was for Robin Williams, it is fatal.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Speaking publicly about mental illness

Tonight was my first speaking event for Stop Stigma Sacramento, I spoke in front of about 40 people.  Most of them were board members of the Sacramento Children's Home, and also many of their spouses.  Below is my speech.

Hello.  My name is Danny Price.  I am a 4th grade teacher, a father of two teenage boys, a husband, a son, a youth worker for my church and a friend to many.  I also live with mental illness.  Today I will be talking about something I kept secret for many years,.  Something I was once ashamed of.  I have learned, though, over the last several years that living with a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. I live with major depression and anxiety.  It is an illness, a medical issue, just like diabetes or cancer.

I have lived with major depression and anxiety since my teenage years.  As I think back I first noticed something seemed wrong when I was a young teenager. I felt different than everybody else.  I had friends and lived an outwardly normal existence, but on the inside I was filled with fear, shame, and pain.  My high school years were very difficult emotionally, but because I was scared and ashamed I didn't tell anyone about it.  There was not much awareness about mental health 30 years ago, and I didn't understand what was happening.  My family also didn't understand or recognize the symptoms, therefore I did not receive any help or support with my problems.  This continued into college.

Around the age of 20 I first took action to do something about this pain I felt.  I don’t remember how it happened to be honest.  I first started  therapy and antidepressants in my early 20s.  I stayed in the same therapy group for 7 years and it changed my life.  The work was very hard and slow.  During this time and after I would go off of my medication once I started to feel better.  This went on for years  I would have long periods of doing well.  But eventually it would always creep back in.  And not only that, but each time the interval between episodes would get shorter, and the intensity of the episode would be stronger.  This continued, and about 4 years ago I hit a breaking point.
One of the misperceptions about depression is that it is a reaction to bad things happening in your life.  While this can be true, it isn't always this way. sometimes things can be going along just fine and depression will hit anyway.   This is where I was in the summer of 2011.  Everything in my life was going well, and I quickly fell into a deep depression.  This made it really hard for me.  What's wrong with me that I feel this way when I have so many good things in my life?  I should just be grateful for all that I have.  It was the end of summer and I was getting ready to go back to work.  I had tapered off of my medication with help from my doctor. The depression hit quickly and harder than ever.  I worked very hard to keep up the appearance of normalcy on the outside, but inside I was falling apart.  Over the next several weeks as I went back to work things got worse.  I had trouble making it through the work day.  I didn't feel like myself anymore.  I felt a constant heaviness, I couldn't smile, I wasn't able to sleep, and I often cried for no apparent reason. I was losing control of my life.   It was incredibly scary.  Depression tells me lies, it tells lies to everyone who suffers.  And when you are in the middle of it, it's easy to believe the lies.  The worst part of this particular occurrence of depression was that I became absolutely convinced that I was a burden to all those around me and that everyone would be better off if I was not alive.  I did not actively seek to end my life, but I did wish I wasn't alive.  The pain was so unbearable that I did not want to live.

I was very scared, and I realized I needed help.  I had never had an episode of depression this bad before.  I took it more seriously than I had in the past.  Instead of just going to my regular doctor, I went to see a psychiatrist and got back on medication.  It was the first time I had been officially diagnosed.  I have recurrent major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.  I also went back to see my therapist.  This was different also.  In my work there I began to recognize how difficult it was for me to pretend that all is well when it isn't.  I didn't want to live this way anymore.
I slowly began the process of coming out in the open with my illness.  I started this process by having conversations with friends and family.  It was very scary, and I wasn't sure how people would respond.  I was afraid people would judge me, think less of me, or discount my experience.  To my surprise many people shared with me ways in which their lives had been affected by mental illness.  Some had struggled themselves, many had friends or family members with depression or other mental illness, and sadly some had lost loved ones to suicide.  I realized that by talking about my struggles I gave permission to others to do the same. Realizing the healing effect talking about my illness had both on me and those around me I decided to do more. 

Since that time I have become outspoken about mental illness and have become an advocate.  Through social media I have met many other advocates from around the world.   I now live openly with my mental illness. I had no idea how freeing that would feel.  It was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.  Living openly has taken away much of the power depression holds over me.  Depression thrives on secrecy, it makes you think it is all your fault.  But the good news is it's not.  It's an illness.  A chemical imbalance in your brain.  Like any illness it's hard to manage, but it can be done.  I take medication daily and still go to therapy twice a month.  I have a strong support system in real life and through social media .  Having come to accept my mental illness, and seeing the effect it has had on me has made me want to speak out even more.  And that is why I'm here talking to you today.

I speak out is because I know firsthand how isolating it can be trying to fight this illness alone.  I speak out because I know that two thirds of the people with mental illness do not seek help.  I speak out to let people know that they are not alone, and to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.  I speak out because over 40,000 people die each year in the United States to suicide, with nearly a million making attempts.  And finally, I speak out because I know in doing so it can change and save lives.

We can all do things to help decrease the stigma.  The first is to take action and seek help for ourselves if we are struggling.  Also, we can have conversations with others and challenge stereotypes about mental illness when we hear them.  The last point I will leave you with is that we who struggle with mental illnesses become masters at hiding our pain and struggles.  Therefore, the most important thing to do is to treat each other with compassion because we may not know for sure who is suffering.    Listening to each other is valuable, and I thank you for listening to my story.  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

I also have Social Anxiety

I have written a lot about my experience with depression, but I also suffer from various forms of anxiety including social anxiety.  Yesterday I attended a four hour training that will lead to my becoming a public speaker for Stop Stigma Sacramento.  I'd love to tell you it was a powerful experience and I felt so connected and empowered to be around other people who understand and experience mental illness. I was surrounded by people who understand, but I did not feel connected and empowered.  I participated, but it was difficult..  I actually left feeling a bit down and disconnected.

It often amazes me that even though I've lived with major depression and anxiety for over 25 years that I continue to grow and learn new things about my illnesses and how to manage them all the time.  Sometimes in social situations, and almost always when I am in a new situation, I feel very anxious.  My heart beats fast, I worry what others are thinking, and I can't fully relax.  I also tend to think that other people there don't like me and that I don't fit in.  This was all going on yesterday at the training.  I never really realized until recently that these symptoms are common for people with social anxiety and that I'm not the only one who experiences them.  

There is great power for me in knowing I'm not alone. And in simply acknowledging this experience exists for me.  In the past I would have tried to hide this and push away and hide the feelings, all the while berating myself for not being able to "be like everyone else".  But yesterday I just rolled with it for the most part.  It was still unpleasant at times, but I had the awareness that it was just a part of how I experience things and that it would pass.  I noticed the feelings and participated when I could.  I also allowed myself not to participate when I didn't feel up to it, and to just listen.  Most of the time without judgment.  That is huge progress for me.

Knowing all of this now it doesn't surprise me that I've historically avoided things that bring me anxiety.  I don't like making phone calls, returning items to a store, making small talk with strangers, and many other social situations.  It's a part of my anxiety, and it's not a reflection of who I am as a person.  There's nothing wrong with me, I have social anxiety.  Thankfully, between the hard work in therapy and my medication the symptoms are pretty manageable.  And once I'm comfortable somewhere, such as work, the anxiety does not interfere with my functioning much at all.  You would think that with all of this that I prefer to be alone, but that's not the case.  I'm an extremely social person and love connecting with others, it usually energizes me.   

Having said all that, I still wonder if it's a good idea for me to take on a volunteer position as a public speaker about very personal things as someone living with social anxiety.  This is sort of an experiment I guess.  I believe I can do it, but if for whatever reason it doesn't work out I will be okay with that.  I'm going to just take it one step at a time and allow myself to move very slowly and feel awkward and vulnerable.  I will be going the next two Fridays to "practice sessions" where I get to practice my speech and get feedback and help from the leader.  I'm excited, and I'm not going to let my social anxiety stop me from doing this important work. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bringing Mental Illness into the Light

Good morning.  I want to thank Pastor Don for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.  About 2 months ago he approached me and asked me if I'd like to speak at church about my experiences living with depression and anxiety and the work I have been doing over the last couple of years to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental illness.  I have been open with Don and many others about my struggles and successes, and he thought it would be a good message to share with all of you.  I was very reluctant, mostly because I don't much like public speaking and the idea made me really nervous.  Especially given the topic.  Today I will be speaking openly with you about things I worked very hard for many years to keep secret,.  Things I was once ashamed of.  I have learned, though, over the last several years that living with depression is nothing to be ashamed of.  It is an illness, a medical issue, just like diabetes and cancer. 

However, many people don't see it this way.  Some think of those of us who suffer as weak, or believe our mental illnesses are character flaws.  Still others don't even believe mental illnesses exist.  These stereotypes are the result of stigma.  Stigma is a mark of disgrace which sets a person apart from others.  Stigma is a very large part of living with a mental illness, and some, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia carry an even greater stigma than others.. I avoided facing stigma for the most part because I kept my depression and anxiety from other people.  However, self stigma has really affected me a great deal.  I have learned recently that my greatest issue with stigma is the stigma I hold towards my own illness.  This is a work in progress, but it is coming along.

It is because of this stigma that over the years I have chosen to fight my depression like many people do, in secrecy.  I chose this because I didn't really think there were any other options. You don't just go around telling people you have depression.  Well, at least that's what I thought then.  Obviously I've had a change of heart,  I have been in and out of therapy and on and off medication since around the age of 20.   It has been very helpful and has definitely changed my life for the better.  I don't see mental illness as just black and white.  There are different levels of the illness, and also two people with the same diagnosis can present very differently.  I'm fortunate in that my depression responds well to medication, when I am on medication my symptoms are greatly reduced.  However, because I didn't want to see myself as someone with a mental illness I always chose to go off of my medication once I started feeling better.  Inevitably, the symptoms would return.

In the summer of 2011 I was again not on any medication.  I had gone off several months before, with my doctor's help, because I hadn't had any symptoms of depression for several months.  Near the end of the summer I slipped into one of the worst episodes of depression I have ever had.  It really just hit me out of the blue, and it hit me hard.  Things were going fine.  I was getting ready to go back to school and on the outside everything was pretty normal.  But inside I was falling apart.  When the depression gets really bad I feel like an entirely different person.  I don't feel like myself anymore. There's no joy or smiling.  I wasn't sleeping normally, I wasn't functioning very well at work, it was hard to concentrate, and I felt hopeless.  Depression is an illness of the brain and it makes my thinking really negative.  I can remember getting home from work, which I was barely able to get through during that period, and just crying for long periods of time for no apparent reason.  Depression tells me lies about myself and my life.  Intrusive thoughts are negative thoughts that you cannot control.  This was what was happening with me. I remember so clearly I had the absolute belief that everyone in the world would be better off if I wasn't here.  I didn't ever attempt suicide, I didn't have a plan, but I was absolutely convinced that life would be better for everyone else if I were gone.  In those moments I didn't want to be alive.  It was a terribly scary thing to experience, and I really didn't know if I was going to make it through.  There was a sense of losing control.  I didn't know from one moment to the next how I would feel.

So at this point in my life I did what I had done several times before.  I made an appointment with my doctor to get back on medication and went back to my therapist.  This was definitely the scariest episode of depression I had ever been through, and I was very afraid.  Slowly I began to come out of the depression, and at that point something began to shift in me.  I  became extremely aware of how difficult it was for me to keep my depression to myself.  I didn't want to live in the darkness alone anymore, I was done hiding it, so slowly I began telling the people in my life.  The conversations were scary and difficult at first.  I still feared what people would think.  But with each conversation it got easier and more importantly it was a huge weight off of my shoulders.  

Around this time I became involved in something that would impact me even more.  In the summer of 2012 I participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk in San Francisco with three friends.  It is an 18 mile walk from sunset to sunrise that raises money for suicide prevention.  There were about 2,000 of us walking that night.  Most walk because they have lost someone to suicide, while others of us walk because of our own experiences of living with mental illnesses.  One of the most empowering parts of the experience was the wearing of the honor beads.  There are different colors of necklaces that represent different connections to the cause.  The green necklace of honor beads I wore that night signified that I had personally struggled with a mental illness.  While it made me feel rather vulnerable at first, I quickly realized I was surrounded by people that understood, that didn't judge me, and whose lives had also been touched by mental illness.  It was a community full of love, tears, acceptance, and healing. 
This walk had such an impact on me that I decided to do it again this last summer in Seattle.  There were many aspects of the walk in Seattle this year that affected me, but one short conversation I had right as I arrived was the most memorable.  When you arrive you have to fill out some medical paperwork as part of checking in.  The woman who was helping me was very friendly and gracious..  She thanked me multiple times for walking, and we were just having a pleasant conversation.  I asked her if she was also going to be walking, and she said she wasn't ready yet because she had just lost her son to suicide 8 months before.  It's not everyday a stranger tells you upon meeting you the most painful thing that has ever happened in their life. This woman, who I have managed to stay in touch with thanks to social media, had her life turned upside down by this illness.   Her son was 17 at the time and had just been diagnosed with depression a few days before he took his life.  At that point they tried to get him into an inpatient program immediately for his own safety as she believed he was at risk.  However, the insurance required an intake process, so they had to wait 4 days.  Three hours before that appointment he took his life.  The fact that had the insurance company not delayed treatment he likely would have lived only makes this more difficult for her and her family.  And yet, she is already using her experience to help others by advocating for treatment and awareness of mental illness.  She, and so many others I met at the walk, are using their suffering to bring healing and hope to others.  I knew that was something I wanted for myself as well.  This is indeed an epidemic, with millions of Americans suffering from mental illness and nearly 40,000 each year taking their lives. 

This experience lit a fire under me.  It has been just over three months since I walked in Seattle, and I have been busy with my work as an advocate.  I have started a private Facebook page, which now has about 60 people involved, for anyone who has been affected by mental illness. This group has been a place of healing for me as well as others.  Connecting with others who understand has been an essential part of my healing.  Creating this safe space to really talk about our daily struggles and receive support is so powerful. A big part of being able to hold off episodes of depression is having people to talk to. 

Shortly after this I decided I was going to start a blog to write about my life with depression.  I was very scared about this step, because I knew I was opening doors that could not be closed.  This would be public, anyone could read it.  Coworkers, friends, family, parents of my students, anyone!  People in all of these groups have now read it, and it's okay.  There have been so many people who have come out in support of me.  Many have shared their struggles with me thanked me for opening up the conversation.  I feel that for people that have been affected, which is so many of us, there is a need to talk about these things but not always a place to do it.  By sharing my experiences, I realize now I have given others permission to do the same.

So now I am completely out in the open about the fact that I have depression and anxiety.  It is one of the most freeing and healing things I have ever done.  I have finally come to believe that there is no shame in having depression.  I am ready to use my struggles to help others and let them know they are not alone.  But it's still there.  I still live with my depression and anxiety and take steps each day to keep it at bay.  I go to therapy every week, I have support groups and people to talk to and connect with, and if things get rough I have a lot of tools and people to help me through.  I've accepted that this is something I will live with and have to work on for the rest of my life, but the difference between now and where I was even last year is that I know now there is nothing wrong with me as a person and that I'm not alone.

In the scripture reading this morning it talked about our weaknesses making us stronger.  "The weaker I become the stronger I get".  That has certainly been my experience these last several years.  The more I acknowledge my struggles, share my vulnerability, and let people know what I really experience the stronger I feel.   I don't know what lies in store for me, but I am committed to using my experiences to help others.  And for this, I am extremely grateful.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day???

I don't really like Valentine's Day.  Pretty much any holiday that is designed to point out connection, family, and love can trigger negative thoughts and feelings for me.  I don't like the idea of making up a day where you are "supposed" to behave and feel in a certain way.  Shouldn't every day be a day to let others know you care about them?

When I was a teen and young adult I really disliked most holidays, especially Valentine's Day and New Years Eve.  I felt so disconnected and alone, and the holidays just intensified that for me.  I often ended up spending them alone. I had friends and people in my life, but because of the depression and anxiety I always felt disconnected and alone anyway.  This still happens to a lesser degree at times, it is a part of living with this illness for me.

Now that I do often feel connected with my family and many friends I am not triggered in the way I once was, but I still don't really like the holiday.  I love my wife very much, but I don't need a special day designated by someone else to tell me that I should buy her something.  I also know a lot of people who struggle with depression and loneliness, and I know for many of them this is a hard day.  While I feel a great deal of gratitude today for all I have, I am very mindful of the millions of people out there feeling even more alone and isolated than they do on a "regular" day.  It is mainly this reason that I wish this holiday didn't exist.

Amy and I don't really celebrate Valentine's Day.  When we want to go out and spend time together we just do it.  When I want to buy her flowers I do.  Valentine's day is just not our thing.  As a matter of fact, we aren't even  together this evening.  She is with our older son at a church fundraiser providing childcare for couples who do want to go out.  I am at home with Mark.  We took the dogs to the dog park and tonight we are just relaxing and doing the things we like.  He's watching NBA All Star Saturday, and I'm writing (and also getting distracted watching basketball).  We both tend to need a bit more "alone time", so this is the perfect night for us.

It's odd that I don't really like a holiday that is supposed to be all about love.  I guess I want to live my life in love every day.  I don't need a holiday to let the people in my life know I love them.  I have an amazing and loving wife, two great boys, and so many great friends.  I would not have come so far in my battle with depression and anxiety without these people.  I am grateful.  I don't always feel the love and connection, but I know I am blessed.  My wish is for everyone to have that.  If this is a hard day for you, I'm so sorry.  You are not alone, none of us are!  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hope in a Broken World

I wanted to write something to mark and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day.  I was born a little over a year after he was assassinated, but he still had a major impact on my life.  When I was in my late teens and early 20's I was dealing with depression and anxiety but didn't know it at the time.  I felt painfully isolated and disconnected from what I perceived to be a cruel world.  Reading his writings and learning about his courage in standing up to injustice inspired me. Despite the fact that I was completely unhappy I knew I wanted this in my life.  I wanted to make a difference.  I still do.

Here I am 25 years later, having healed so much from the scars of living with depression and anxiety, and I still look around and see a cruel world much of the time.  As a teacher I see decisions being made that are not in the best interest of students.  I look on Facebook and see my fellow teachers calling each other names and putting each other down simply because they disagree. I see an educational system that is being driven by people who don't understand a thing about teaching or have the least bit of concern for the children we are supposed to be serving.  I see students at my school who live in homes filled with violence, addiction, and abuse.  And then I look at statistics and see that every year nearly a million people attempt to take their own lives.  In sum, I see a broken world filled with suffering.

All of this hurts my heart, it makes me lose hope, and it just simply gets me down. It challenges my mental health on a daily basis. What it all has in common is that we seem so quick to dehumanize each other and there is a complete lack of compassion.  We forget that everyone has value.  We forget that we are more alike than we are different.  I desperately long for a world filled with more acceptance and kindness.  A world like the one Dr. King envisioned.

In addition to this, I also see many positive things in the world.  I have amazing friends and family who love me for who I am.  I am part of a church community that works to serve those in need and where  everyone is truly welcome.  I work with a principal and a group of teachers who put children first and set their egos aside to help students feel connected and make progress.  All students!  In the last six months I have met so many people in the mental health community who are doing amazing things to bring hope and love to people suffering with mental illness.  This discovery has been like finding a home I never knew existed.  I rarely feel alone these days.  There are multiple people in real life and online who I can reach out to when times are difficult.  This gives me hope, makes me feel strong and connected, and empowers me to keep working.

I struggle to reconcile these two worlds.  How do I stay positive and maintain my mental health without living in complete denial of the problems around me?  My most recent attempt has been to avoid all of the negativity that I can.  On Facebook I have hidden my school district's union page from my feed for my own sanity.  There is just too much bickering, negativity, and disrespect.  I can still check it if need be to stay updated on things happening, but it is not forced upon me.  I have done the same with several of my "friends" that post things that I find to be toxic.  I even removed several of them completely.  In real life I have a good bullshit radar and tend to naturally gravitate towards healthy and supportive people.  However, there are angry and bitter people I come into contact with just naturally.  People who I find to be passive-aggressive, who don't communicate directly, and who are generally negative.  I have been working to not personalize the behavior of these people. It's still very hard.

In my life, in addition to my family, I have two basic passions.  Teaching and mental health.  As a teacher I am passionate about children having a safe environment where they feel empowered and valued.  I am passionate in my belief that students are more than test scores, and that their social and emotional growth is every bit as important as their academic success.  My other, and more recently developed, passion is that as a mental health advocate.  I want mental illness to be seen just the same way as any other illness.  I want there to be no shame associated with having a mental illness.  I want people to be able to reach out without fear of judgment when they feel hopeless, alone, and suicidal.  We have a long way to go, but this is my work in life.  .

Teaching is my profession and I love it, but mental health advocacy is where I've found home.  Living with depression and anxiety has shaped and continues to shape every aspect of my life, and finding a community of people who share my passion and experiences has been the most life changing experience of my life.  In the last six months I have found my voice for the first time.  I never believed it would be possible to live openly with my mental illness.  I never dreamed that I would be able to use my suffering to help others.  And yet, here I am doing just that.

Dr. King stood up for what he believed in and constantly preached peace, love, and non-violence.  While I'm no Dr. King, I also have my own dream about how I can change the world. In searching around this morning I found a quote from him, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter".  It seems rare that people really speak about things that truly matter these days.  We are a country divided and our leaders are not working together to make the world a better place for it's citizens.  It's up to us.  We all have our passions, we all have the capacity to use them to make our worlds kinder and more full of love.  And the world can never have too much love and compassion.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Coming back out of my Shell

I haven't posted anything for a while, probably about a month.  I feel like I've lost my voice and confidence in writing.  I could say it's been about being busy, and while I have been, I've also been avoiding my blog.  As a matter of fact, I've been questioning whether I would just quit doing my blog altogether.  I'm not going to.  Something happened in the last week that has reminded me a bit about why I write. So here I am, writing again. 

I was having a conversation with a friend and they brought up the topic of my blog.  They thanked me for writing and told me they had some mental health struggles of their own that they are starting to get help with, but they are not ready to be open about it.   They also told me that when they read what I write it's like I am inside their head writing their thoughts.  I really needed to hear that.  I know it's important to feel good about myself without the affirmation of others, but sometimes I just really need to hear that what I'm doing is helpful.  It's hard to write things and not get any feedback, not know if anyone is reading it or getting anything out of it. 

This helped me remember one of the main reasons I write, and that is to let others know they are not alone.  Being out in the open now it's easy to forget how isolating it can be to suffer alone.  Heck, it's unbearably painful at times living openly.  And I guess that is my point.  In this conversation I had with my friend they mentioned several times that they didn't want to tell people because of the judgment they would face.  Battling any mental health issues is hard work, and adding the need to keep it from people can be so isolating and painful.  So even if people don't come out in the open, just knowing someone can relate and understands can make a big difference.  I know it does for me, and if my blog can do that for others than it is worth it.

But I don't only write for others, I also write for myself.  Living with depression and anxiety means that it's easy for me to want to crawl back in my shell when things get difficult.  It's easy to lose my confidence and not want to keep putting myself out there.  That's where I've been for a bit. Putting things out to the world helps take the shame away from me, and helps me feel more connected.

In the spirit of putting things out there, I will share two things with you.  I'll start with a challenge and finish with some exciting news.  Today I'm feeling horrible.  Tomorrow the family goes back to work and school, and the dread is weighing on me today.  This has been a challenging year for both of my kids, and the weekly routine and homework battles have been much more stressful than normal.  While I love my job and have an amazing class of 4th graders this year, there is increased stress there as well with massive changes and a lack of leadership and support from the district I work for.  I know I'll be fine once I get going on the routine, but for today it's dread and a complete lack of energy to do anything.

Despite my current mood, I also have good news as well.  I submitted an application yesterday to be part of a speakers bureau for Stop Stigma Sacramento.  I am not familiar with how it all works exactly, but I know that members of the speakers bureau share their stories at schools, businesses and other places in order to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness.  I'm terrified of this, but I know my fear will not decrease until I just do it.  So I will.  I'm not sure how quickly it will come together, but I'm excited to have taken that first step of submitting my application.  In the meantime, I'll continue to remember and trust that I can do this.  Not only that, but I know it will open new doors for me and help me grow and heal.