The Face of Depression

I’ve spoke of this many times before but feel the need to reiterate it now: depression isn’t always hiding under the covers, frowning or crying all the time. You may be sitting at work next to someone now who is fighting depression or you may pass someone on the street who offers you a smile, all the while fighting their own demons and wondering how they’ll make it through the day.

It’s not secret that I’ve had my own off-and-on battle with depression, I think it’s something I’ll always have to deal with. That’s partially why I haven’t written lately…I wasn’t really sure what to say. So many things have happened around me in the past 6 months that relate to mental health and suicide and I just couldn’t bring myself to write. Until now. I saw this video Chester Bennington’s wife posted on Facebook months after her husband died and I knew I had to share it. Maybe you’ve seen it, maybe you haven’t, but it’s a good reminder that depression doesn’t isn’t all tears and staying in bed, some people are better at hiding it than others. So use this as a reminder to hug your friends & family and always be open to lend a shoulder or a listening ear to someone who may need it.

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My Reasons Why

I’m very much like Clay when it comes to this series and Hannah’s tapes. For me, this wasn’t a show to binge. I had to take it in small pieces, sometimes shutting it off only minutes into an episode.

It took me two weeks to get through, but tonight, I finished 13 Reasons Why. I didn’t watch it for entertainment and I can’t say I enjoyed it but I needed to know how the show was going to handle mental health and suicide.

I will begin with this: Be warned, the show can definitely be a trigger.

Whether you’ve directly struggled with issues related to mental health and/or suicidal thoughts or you’ve been lucky enough that you haven’t, this show will have your mind racing. And maybe that’s what it’s supposed to do.

I’ve talked with many people who’ve watched the show. And I’ve saved dozens of articles that appear to paint this show in a negative light…but I haven’t read them yet. I intend to, but first, I wanted to watch the series and wrap my own mind around it.

As a person who has been through many of the same experiences as Hannah Baker, this show was tough to watch. And I think that is definitely one of the points this show was trying to make. Suicide is incredibly painful to watch. Depression is hard to sit back and watch without being able to do anything. Rape and sexual assault is unbearable to watch. But that’s the point, right? In Beyond the Reasons after the show they described why they chose to show the suicide and the rape. Both had my stomach in knots and I had to turn away during both. Then, upon realizing what I was doing, I forced myself to turn back to the screen and watch because it’s turning away from those experiences , blocking them out, that’s part of the problem.

Do I agree with everything the show depicted? No. Do I think it was necessary to show the act of suicide? No. Do I think it’s okay that Hannah chose to tell these people they’re the reason she died? No. But since this show came out, I’ve heard more people openly talk about suicide than I ever have in my life.

And that should be the point.

This show isn’t perfect. But neither are we. I’m not saying my opinion is the only opinion and I’m definitely not saying it’s right but this is my take on the series.

It’s opening up conversations.

There’s a high school near where I live that preventatively sent out a note regarding the show. Take that in for a moment. A school chose to speak out about suicide and make the topic top of mind for their students and parents before an act even occurred. If that’s the only good thing that comes out of this show, then I think it’s a win. But it’s not the only occurrence. Whether good or bad, people across the country are openly talking about this show, rape & suicide.

Don’t shy away from the ugliness.

13 Reasons Why covered so many taboo topics. Many of the kids in the show didn’t feel comfortable talking about these topics – rape, suicide, slut shaming – and that really bothered me. I found myself turning episodes off during the middle of them because I was so frustrated that they wouldn’t just talk about what was happening. I quickly realized I wasn’t frustrated with the show but with people in general. This happens every day. I know what it’s like to say the word “suicide” and immediately have people blush or even physically cringe, but we have to force ourselves to open up and talk about the difficult things in life because we never know when the person on the other end of the conversation may need that opportunity to open up.

Don’t stop trying. Don’t stop reaching out.

When I finished the series I was left with a lot of questions. Why the guns? Why the second suicide attempt? Why did they show certain things? Why didn’t they have suicide messages and hotline numbers attached to every episode? Why didn’t they choose to create a character who reached out and got help? I think, to some point, I still have some of these questions but I understood a lot more when I watched the after show, Beyond the Reasons.

In the after show, the actor who played Clay mentioned why he understood that some kids don’t reach out, “What do I say? What are they going to say? They’re not going to understand.” That eased some of the anger this show left me with. Whether it’s a teenager or another adult in your life, I can’t stress how important it is to make the people in your life aware of the fact that you’re there, day or night, to talk. Or just to listen. Sometimes as humans, we don’t have the words to describe what we’re feeling or maybe we’re scared the other person won’t understand it. But you know what? That’s okay. The other person doesn’t have to understand what you’re going through or why you made a certain decision. They just need to be there.

But, even so, you can try your hardest to be aware and make yourself available to those around you and you could still miss it. I write that sentence from experience. I’ve been made aware of it, looked for it and still missed it. Sometimes you can stare a suicidal person in the face and have no idea what’s going on in their mind.

That’s why it’s important to reach out. It’s not a one and done kind of conversation. Please, I beg of you, continuously reach out to those in your life.

You matter to me.

Make yourself available to the people in your life on a regular basis and continue reiterating that fact to them. Tell people you love them every chance you can.

Have the difficult conversations.

Don’t miss an opportunity to reach out, to ask questions. Don’t miss the opportunity to recognize when someone is in crisis.

“How am I supposed to live with that?”

“Any way you can.”

– 13 Reasons Why

Watch the show, don’t watch the show. It doesn’t matter to me. But do me a favor? Talk about suicide. And depression. Have conversations about mental health. Take an uncomfortable topic and help take the stigma out of it. Don’t minimize other people’s situations. Make yourself available. Look for signs, but know that you may not always see them.

Tell people they matter to you because, believe me, you’ll wish you could when they’re gone.

13 reasons why

 

The Power of Social Media

It seems lately that more and more people are standing up and speaking out against social media. I won’t disregard the fact that it can lead to negative things like bullying FOMO, & unreal expectations but we can’t overlook the fact that it can also give people a chance to connect, to voice their opinions & to even get help.

Here I have to be blatantly honest and say that I might have a bias toward this medium as I currently work in the world of social media, but I think we often neglect the fact that there is good that comes from these platforms, too.

Last year, Facebook rolled out a tool that allowed suicidal users to connect with a professional at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Now, Instagram (owned by Facebook) seems to be following a similar route. If a user notices a post that seems to nod to self-harm or suicidal thoughts, it can be reported to get that individual connected to a hotline or seek other ways to help. The platform has even taken things one step further by also blocking hashtags like #thinspo & #selfharm.

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In a world where teenagers are constantly connected and chatting, it’s refreshing to see that these tools are evolving and trying to help with other major needs many teenagers face: depression and suicidal thoughts.

Though social media isn’t perfect and it can lend its way to many negative things, it’s being used by millions of people across the world, and it’s reassuring to know that these platforms care about their users well-being and mental health.

Five Years in the Making

One of the best aspects of my life over the past three and a half years, has been the opportunity to listen to people’s stories. Everyone in this world has an amazing, inspiring, but often, tragic, story. I believe that by sharing our story with others we not only gain strength, but empower others to share theirs as well.

For some of you, today might just be any other day, but for one particular person reading this, it’s a step to a new life. It’s a step to working through the depression and the events that life has thrown their way and turning the page.

Earlier this week I was approached with the story below and, with their permission, I am sharing this with you. Thank you for being brave. Thank you for sharing your story.

Dear Friend,

It’s February again. I keep waiting for the depression to seep in. It always follows me around like a dark cloud on a rainy day this time of year. No matter how busy I keep myself, no matter how much I try to distract myself from the negative thoughts and emotions, the rain cloud grows and grows and grows until it reaches its peak on February 25th, the day I was raped five years ago.

Five years ago, I didn’t understand what had happened to me. Five years ago, I didn’t know how to deal with what had happened to me. Not much has changed today.

I will spare you the specific details, but there are some things about my rape you should probably know. It happened in my own house, in my own room, in my own bed. The person who raped me was a friend, someone I had once liked.

After it happened, I immediately started shaking. I felt physically and emotionally dirty. After he was gone, I texted my best friend and explained to her what had happened. I told her things had gone too far. She told me I was raped. She told me I needed to go to the hospital. Instead I put my sheets in the washing machine and went to school. I sat through my classes and acted as if nothing had happened. I came home from school and did my homework and ate dinner with my family as if nothing was wrong. Meanwhile, depression and confusion were numbing my entire body. I wanted to explode from the guilt and regret I felt.

I dealt with what happened by binge drinking and cutting. They usually went hand in hand. I would drink to numb whatever pain I was feeling, but instead it would intensify those emotions, and at the end of the night I would slip into a nearby bathroom and delicately cut my thighs or my forearms.

Today, I have completely stopped cutting. Although I consider myself a healthier person emotionally, I still don’t know how to deal with what happened to me. Maybe that’s why I’m writing this letter, as a way to cope.

I think the hardest part for me is not feeling like I have anyone to talk to about it. I have tried to open up to friends, but no one has seemed to understand or support me the way I wanted them to. Even after I confided in some of my friends they still continued to make rape jokes or make light of rape while I was hanging out with them. This made me want to run from the room screaming but instead I would usually sit silently or pretend to laugh it off with everyone else.

The word “rape” makes me cringe or freeze up. Regardless, I still find myself immersed in books, movies, and news stories that deal with the topic. Maybe other survivor stories will help me to understand my own. And maybe my own story will help another survivor.

I’m not sure if the emotional pain from my rape will ever go away. Sure, it has dulled with the years, but it’s still there. And every February, it soaks back stronger than ever, maybe just as a reminder that I survived, and that I’ll keep surviving. Here’s to making it through another February.

Speak Up.

I’m at a loss for words tonight. I received a phone call notifying me that someone from the community I grew up in committed suicide this weekend during his first semester at college. I didn’t know him personally, but my heart is heavy for his friends and family. It’s in these moments that we need to remember that suicide & mental health need to be talked about.

So hug your loved ones a little tighter tonight and be willing to open up and
listen to those around you. The more awareness there is the more we can work toward helping those in need.

We matter as much as the oxygen we breathe.

World Suicide Prevention Day.

Many people have no idea this day exists, while others, can’t get it off their mind. I fall into the latter category. My heart is so heavy today.

Three years ago I knew very little about this day, if I was even aware at all that it existed. I knew about depression and suicide, I’ve had my very own struggles with both, but I never stopped to think about a day or a week dedicated to this subject.

What I also didn’t realize was how much of a stigma is tied to mental illness. Sure, I wasn’t willing to open up about my own past or share my own story, but I never stopped to think that others were feeling the same. I thought that I had made the subject taboo in my own life, but I’ve come to understand in the past couple of years that it wasn’t just me, it’s the society that we live in that makes this subject so unmentionable.

Depression. Suicide. Anxiety. PTSD. Why can’t we talk about these?

I’ve heard these called the “invisible disease” because at first glance, you have no idea that the other person is enduring a daily battle inside. But the same can be said for cancer, right? When my mom was first diagnosed with melanoma, you couldn’t tell by looking at her. We talk about cancer, why can’t we talk about mental health? We have telethons and months designated to bring awareness to cancer and other diseases that are widely known and shared, so why isn’t a day like today shared just as openly? Because it makes people uncomfortable? That’s not an answer I’m okay with.

Battling with a mental illness doesn’t make you less of a person. As I was reading through stories of survivors and those who have lost their battle I came across a post that read, “we matter as much as the oxygen we breathe.”

I don’t know if reading that has much power for you as it did for me, but it was enough to make me stop and really take in that statement.

We matter.

You are here for a reason. And so is the person sitting next to you. We’re alive and that’s something we should be proud of. Unfortunately, many people battling with mental illness aren’t able to see that. I was once one of those people. I was convinced that my scars told my story, but the truth I’ve come to realize is, that I have the opportunity to change that story. I had to come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to change my past. There are things I would have done differently, or not at all, but I can’t go back. What I can do, though, is change my future.

Maybe no one needed to hear my story. Or maybe just one person did. It’s worth it, though, because if I could have an impact on that one person, then my job is done.

I’ve loved someone who lost their battle. And that is a weight that I carry around with my every day. The what ifs, the what-could-have-beens, those are questions that, if I give them the power, will easily crush me. But I know there is a purpose to this life and to his. Maybe his story isn’t mine to share, but I’m willing to share mine.

 

Tonight, at 8pm, light a candle next to a window for all the people who couldn’t fight any longer and for those who continue to battle their illness every single day.

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Time Passes, Even When We Don’t Want It To

Two months ago today, I was sitting on my college campus between classes writing a blog post. I remember the day clearly: the rain was falling outside and I could hear the sound of it gently hitting the windowpane behind me, and I was content (mainly because I enjoy a rainy day every once in awhile). I was a little over a month away from graduating from the university and life felt great.

It’s amazing how quickly that feeling can go away.

Nineteen days after that blog post, my mom suffered from a seizure. We thought it was just a byproduct of her stage IV melanoma and weekly chemo sessions. Unfortunately, the news wasn’t that simple, and six days after she was admitted to the hospital, she died, peacefully on a sunny wintry morning after celebrating my oldest sister’s birthday, and I was lucky enough to hold her hand and read to her in her last moments. In a matter of days, my life was turned upside down.

The past month has been a rollercoaster of emotions trying to deal with the changes ranging from life without my mom to my transition into the world after college. With all that was going on, I didn’t feel I was at a place to be writing. I didn’t think I had anything to say.

I could barely help myself how could I possibly help someone else right now?” I thought.

But tonight I realized writing is what I have to do. Maybe I don’t have much insight or information to offer, but if I can share the daily struggles of life after the death of a loved one, maybe I could inspire even one person to share their story. Losing someone close to you changes your whole existence. It changes your thoughts about your future, the person you are, and throws a curve ball into something as simple as your daily routine. With all these changes, it’s no wonder people easily fall into a depression after significant loss and change. I find myself fighting that every single day. But that’s what we have to do. We have to fight. Whether it is for ourselves, our friends, or any of our loved ones; it is in these moments that we need to be reaching out for help, or to simply be willing to open up.

Depression comes on quickly. At first it may seem like a lazy day or you can blame it on the gloomy weather. And eventually, you find that days and weeks have passed and the feelings haven’t subsided, but the sooner you reach out to others, the easier it can be to cope with.

Making yourself vulnerable is difficult, believe me, I’ve been trying to think of something, anything to say since my mom died. But eventually, you just have to put it out there, and hopefully, you’ll be surprised at the response and support you’re greeted with.

My plea for you tonight, is to not give up. Not on yourself or your loved ones, help them away from the darkness depression can bring on. It’s amazing the impact a few simple words can make.

Live Blog

In February 2010, The National Alliance for Mental Health Massachusetts started doing Twitter chats that converge mental health and social media (#mhsm). Tonight I’m taking place in a chat put on by NAMI Massachusetts and is moderated by unsuicide. The chat starts at 6 p.m. PST and I will be watching and putting my own input, thoughts, or experiences.

8:00 — The chat has started. Topic: Peer support

8:03 — First question asked: “What types of mental health and addictions peer support have helped you?”

8:07 — A lot of the people that have responded to the first question have answered with friends and online help. I definitely agree that friends and family are one of the best support groups there are.

8:10 — This is kind of overwhelming at first, there’s a lot more people involved in this chat than I thought. That’s definitely a good thing though

8:12 — Third question was posted. It asks whether or not you give professional peer support in the mental health system; this seems like an interesting question to ask. Would you keep your professional life separate from your personal life? I think that would be difficult to do.

8:17 — There’s a lot of talk about peer certification and peer groups during this chat, which is a concept I had never given much thought to. I’m wondering how these programs work and how one would go about getting involved. That would be an amazing way to help get involved and give back.

8:22 — I’ve gotten involved and put some input into the conversation, this chat is so informative and is really helping me connect with others in the mental health community. I’ll be tuning in more Tuesdays to join in the conversation.

8:29 — Got retweeted by another peer, @natasha_tracy who is a peer going through tough situations and spreading awareness. Definitely a good feeling

8:35 — Talking about favorite peer support outlets on this Twitter chat is showing me so many great blogs and resources for mental health help.

8:38 — The risks of peer support was just brought up. I’m glad this is something that is being covered. Although it’s really great that peer support is available, it’s always important to know the risks involved.

8:44 — A lot of the people involved are talking about taking caution when it comes to peer advice and making sure you feel comfortable. Sounds pretty reasonable.

8:50 — One of the last questions (I think, anyway) was asked about whether or not we would take a course to get peer certified if it was available. I think it sounds like a great way to get involved and I know I’m going to be looking into it more in the future.

8:55 — A questions was just asked about how people would go about talking about self-harm or eating disorders without triggering or encouraging these actions. I think talking about these subjects and the way questions or answers are worded is the most important. Just being careful and aware of what you’re saying.

9:00 — The chat just ended and it went surprisingly fast. Definitely a great way to learn more about mental health and connect with others.

For a transcript of the conversation that went on tonight, click here.

Military Members at a High Risk for Suicide

As I was reading the New York Times, I came across an article that talked about military suicides. This was not a subject that I knew much about and was interested to find out more. Looking into it I found that suicides in the military have been a call for concern for many years now and, in recent years, the amount of suicides has been on a steady rise. A report released at the beginning of this month by the Center for New American Security has laid out recommendations to try to reduce the amount of suicides happening in the military.

The report takes a look at the statistics and the numerical data that is available today, stating that much of it is outdated or not as conclusive as it could be; the numbers on retired military suicides is especially shaky. This report says that the mental health screening after deployment could be improved, hazing prevention, as well as many other ways the military can help lower these numbers of suicide.

Having a place in the military can be stressful and scary for friends and family, but most importantly, for the individual putting his or her life at stake. These people are out there fighting for our country, the least we can do to help is make sure they’re taken care of physically and mentally.

Photo used from Veteran Journal-- http://www.veteranjournal.com