Colleen Coffey – Active Minds Blog Changing the conversation about mental health Wed, 21 Dec 2016 21:09:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Only Way Out is In Thu, 22 Sep 2016 13:00:24 +0000 This post was written by Dr. Colleen Coffey, a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau.

I think that mental health issues exist on a spectrum. I mean this, of course, in the context of the range of issues we all face and the spectrum of severity of diagnoses I also mean this as it relates to how issues appear within us.

The best analogy I can think of when it comes to mental health issues is a Russian nesting doll. A little doll, inside of a medium sized doll, inside of a larger doll that presents to the world. Usually, the larger doll is me–the best version of healthy, happy me. The little doll is anxiety and depression–it’s always there but kind of little in comparison to the rest of me.

Most days I feel great and my quality of life is pretty awesome.

Some days I still struggle.

Even after years of being well–I still struggle.

I have learned over the years how to manage that struggle. Whether it’s sadness or stress or worry or grief–I know how to feel those feelings, deal with them for what they are, and not let them rule me.

But the truth is, some days I feel like dying.

These are days (and they are few and far between) when I can’t get ahold of what I am feeling. When the little doll–the depression and anxiety–seems stronger than the real me. These are days when I couldn’t feel sadder, when I couldn’t possibly be more anxious, when I could not feel more out of control. These are days when I just want to give up.

Do I really want to die? No.

I just don’t want to feel that out of control anymore. What I really mean is that I want the feelings to stop. Those feelings that can seem so impossible to manage. Those feelings that are out of the realm of what’s real and good in life.

Most people who die by suicide don’t really want to die–they just don’t see another way out. I’m here to tell you that there is another way out. All that feelings do is change, but living and dying are both immutable states of being.

The way out is in.

The way out is about having the courage to tell someone you are not ok and to seek help at the first signs of feeling out of control. The way out is to learn how to cope with things that seem impossible and to continue to surround yourself with people that love you. There are so many resources available that specifically address suicide prevention.

Dying is not the best right option. It means that the world misses out on you. Whatever it is that you are going through, there is hope and I promise it gets better. It will stop, you will feel better, you will get yourself back.

The world needs you here–stay with us.

If you or a friend is in crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line.

Be Yourself. It’s Your Most Powerful Tool. Mon, 01 Aug 2016 12:25:39 +0000 Collen is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring her to your campus to speak about mental health. 

My family recently took a trip to Disney World. My little boy, Paul, had a heart transplant last year and this was his Make a Wish Trip.

The Orlando airport departure area experience is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Security is a nightmare and after a flagged bag and an almost missed flight, my family finally made it to flight 992.

I am sitting with two kids, Paul (4) and Georgia (2). As we take off, the flight attendants play a song from top gun and we sing it. We try to play go fish. We talk about how planes work and when snacks will arrive. We read books and sing some more.

I’m doing the best I can to entertain my tired and hungry children when this woman in the row in front of me stands up, turns around, glares at me and says “I appreciate what you’re doing with your children but you are just very loud.”

“Excuse me?” I say.This can’t be real. 

“I have no problem with your children but you are just too loud.”

Yep, that’s what she said. 

“So you’re saying you just have an issue with my existence in general? You don’t like my voice?”

“Yes, you’re just too loud.” She sits down.

Now what? Did this lady really just say that to me in front of my kids? Who made her the noise police?  Ok, I’m gonna fight her. No that’s not right – I’ll get kicked off the plane. I’ll say sorry- no I’m not sorry not even a little. Ignore it- can’t- won’t- never. Insult her flabby arms. No wait that’s not nice. Give her my resume.-No- that’s weird- won’t work.

Talk to her her about kindness. Tell her our story. Sucker punch her. Start crying.

Pointless. Not germane to our present situation.  Mean. Potentially inappropriate.

Own it. Yep that’s the way. Own it… 

“Kids.” I say. “We are going to be super LOUD now just for the lady in front of us!” They giggle. Yep this was the way to go.

I continued to jab her the rest of the flight. We went to the bathroom. On our way back I say “Georgia let’s give a big LOUD hello to this row!!”,

“Paul make sure you read this one extra LOUD.” “Yes you can play with that tray that’s right behind her seat!”

Here’s the thing-you never know what people are going through. Maybe I’m LOUD because I’m hard of hearing and my ears were plugged on the plane.  Maybe I talk LOUDly because part of my livelihood involves using my LOUD voice. Maybe because I learned to read to my babies over the LOUD noises of a hospital room.

Maybe I’m just so happy to be alive that I just choose to do things like play in the rain, get really dirty with my kids, rock my cellulite, wear overalls and pig tails if the spirit moves me, pray for people that I don’t know, celebrate diversity, climb trees, and talk really LOUDly without realizing it. Maybe I’m just made that way.

Here’s the thing-you never know what people are going through.

Maybe she never had kids. Maybe she couldn’t and really wanted them and my enthusiastic display of motherhood was hurtful to her soul. Maybe she didn’t have a mom or just lost her mom or didn’t have a mom that really mothered her. Maybe she suffers from migraines and my voice was making it worse. Maybe she hadn’t pooped in four days and was just taking it out on me. Maybe she’s just plain ole’ mean. Or maybe she really thought she was helping me become a better human.

So what does this have to do with mental health? Quite a lot, actually. Mental wellness is about owning those things that are just “us” in spite of what others believe or perceive. Emotional wellness is about knowing how to have perspective on really challenging interactions. We have to remind ourselves often that so much of how other people interact with us is about them-it’s not about us. In other words, people’s inability to love and appreciate you for you is not your fault at all.

Each and every single moment we have the opportunity to show the world the light of our souls. Authentic light comes from within and it comes from without.

My light may be LOUD but it’s mine. It comes from years of being bullied and popular, rich and poor, the worst student and the best, loved and reviled, and living abnormal circumstances in a normal world. I’m proud of my joy- LOUD and proud. I hope noise police lady has a light too- one that shines brighter than the sun that I just didn’t get to see on flight 992.

If YOU can keep doing YOU- fiercely and wonderfully, whatever that looks like I bet a lot will fall into place. What is your light? Think about it. Even if it’s buried way deep down- it was there once and you will find it again. I lived so much life blunting my personality so others could feel better and quite frankly it was exhausting. Keep doing you- the emotional wellness that comes from doing just that is so incredibly powerful.