Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I am a Stigma Fighter

About five months ago I began writing this blog and quickly became connected with people around the world who also blog about issues related to mental illness.  Within a day of posting my first entry I was connected to someone through a mutual friend who was also a mental health blogger.  She promptly added me to a private Facebook page for mental health advocates who blog about their experiences.  It was a bit overwhelming at first to be among all these accomplished writers who were doing great things as mental health advocates, but it was also a wonderful gift.  I realized I was not alone in this endeavor, that there are thousands of people all over the world doing amazing things to raise awareness about mental illness and end the stigma and shame associated with having a mental illness.

One of those people is Sarah Fader.  She has created a webpage called Stigma Fighters where people share their stories of living with a mental illness.  It is very powerful to see people from all walks of life taking a risk and sharing their stories of suffering in order to heal themselves and others.  She is trying to take the next step and turn Stigma Fighters into a non-profit organization that would create chapters at college campuses where students who struggle can become part of a community who understands.  In order for her to take this next step, she needs to raise $5,000 to become a non-profit and set up some tours of college campuses to get things started.  

 I was so impressed by her work and I decided to get involved a bit.  I donated some money and also submitted my own story of living with mental illness to her page. Stigma Fighters is a community, and I am happy to be a part of it.  Around this time I also began following the progress of her fundraising and was surprised and disappointed to see that more people were not donating.   

I think people don't realize the severity of this problem, especially for our young people.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24.  As a father of two teenagers this really scares me.  Mental illness and suicide are not things that only happen to "other people", it can happen to anyone.  There are over 1,000 suicides annually at U.S. colleges, which means an average of three people each day taking their own life on a college campus. 

Despite all of this, I still never really hear about it.  It's still a topic that is taboo and filled with shame for people.  By not talking about this issue, we are teaching our youth that it is indeed a shameful thing that should not be spoken of.  Then when youth begin to have symptoms, as many do, they feel ashamed, isolated, and don't know how to get help.  They need to know it's okay to talk about it, and they need to have a place where they can get help.  Stigma Fighters can be that place. I sincerely hope that this money can be raised so Sarah can continue moving forward with this important work.  Without a doubt I know it does and will continue to save lives.  

If you are interested in donating here is the link to her fundraising page:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Staying Afloat

I haven't been able to write for several weeks now.  I'm not really sure why, but I have a few theories.  First, ever since I shared my story of living with depression publicly at church about a month ago I just am not sure what to talk about.  That was such an intense experience that maybe I just felt like I needed to crawl back in my shell for a bit?  Another possible theory is the "my life is crazy" theory.  This has been a really tough last several months for me.  Both of my sons are having difficult years in school (10th and 7th grade) and the tension and conflict in the house is really creating a lot of stress.  On top of this we got a new dog, a one year old bulldog, right around the time school started.  She is having a harder time of settling in than we had hoped, and it really feels similar to having a toddler back in the house.  She chews things and we need to watch her most of the time.  The combination of these two things has me so busy and stressed I don't often have time to slow down and reflect.

Whatever the reason, I don't like it.  I miss writing, I miss publishing things, and I miss the cathartic experience of putting things on "paper" and sharing it with the world.  When life is stressful I need that release that writing brings me even more.  So here I am, trying again to write.  Seeing what may come.  I'm guessing this won't be one of my better posts, and it will likely reflect where my mind is right now.  Scattered. 

These last several weeks have been particularly challenging.  Truthfully, we are at the point of not being sure if we will be able to keep our new dog.  This is a really difficult decision to make because our youngest son has become really attached to her and we worry about the effect giving her up would have on him.  We have a trainer we have worked with before, and are going to give that a shot before making any decisions.  Part of this is that she requires so much attention and energy, and our boys haven't been as helpful as we had hoped.  They are struggling to keep up with their workload in school as it is.

So in this time the question I am often asked by my therapist is, "What can you do to take care of yourself?"  Well... I suppose that's an area where I'm a bit of a mixed bag right now.  On the one hand, I'm going to yoga once or twice a week.  I really love yoga and it clears my head and gives me a fresh perspective most of the time.  On the other hand, I find myself turning to alcohol a bit more frequently after a stressful day.  Not an excessive amount, but it likely makes me more worn out in the long run.  I think my biggest barrier to self-care though is just being hard on myself.  Expecting myself to be perfect, getting down on myself for not always reacting in the best way when things get tough with my sons.  Life is just hard sometimes, and now is one of those times.  This is always a difficult time of year with the days getting shorter, the long stretch of school from August to November without many breaks, and just getting worn down.  I need to remind myself that I don't have to be perfect.  I need to remember all of the good things that I do, and not dwell on my struggles but learn from them. I need to keep writing, connecting, and reaching out when I feel overwhelmed and disconnected.  I'm starting to do those things a bit more this last week, and I can feel the difference.

So despite the fact that my household feels much like a battle zone these days, I am hanging in there.  I am doing my very best to be a good parent, husband, teacher, and person while still working to take care of myself.  I'm certainly not doing it perfectly, but that isn't my goal anyway.  Doing my best, being transparent about what is happening, and living with the results is what I'm striving for.