anxiety – Active Minds Blog http://activemindsblog.org Changing the conversation about mental health Wed, 21 Dec 2016 21:09:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.1 Life is not a Trajectory http://activemindsblog.org/life-is-not-a-trajectory/ Tue, 25 Oct 2016 13:22:36 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5604 This morning, as I sat down at my brand new cubicle here at the Active Minds National Headquarters, I realized that I forgot my mug in the lobby of my apartment building. I quickly texted my mom to see if she could grab it for me. She replied that she could, and I started to go on with my day. But out of nowhere, it hit me. I couldn’t help but let myself cry as I recalled this same day one year ago.

I was feverishly writing every thought that raced through my mind into a hand-made journal. I had found the journal in Camden Market only a few months before while adventuring in Europe. I bought it in the hopes of writing some of my best journal entries and poems, but had been waiting for the inspiration to come for a few months. Right then seemed like the perfect time. I was seated in a manila folder colored room that felt much too brisk for comfort. In that room sat my mother, sister, my aunt, my uncle, and an intimidating, but kind doctor. An Oncologist, if I’m going to be more exact.

I had flown home just a few days prior. I still remember the moment when my sister called me. I was in the back-row of a lecture hall, doodling while my Bio-Psych professor went through that day’s lesson. Inconspicuously texting her back, I told her I would call her back once I got out of class.

Before I even had the chance to call back, I had received a few messages already, describing to me the weight of the situation. Something along the lines of “Mom is in the hospital. They found a few masses in her abdomen.”

Walking back from campus toward my house downtown, I called my sister back and we devised a plan. I was to fly home first thing the next morning, so that I could be at the doctors with my mom when pathology affirmed a diagnosis and prognosis. I called my coaches, (I played on the Field Hockey team at UVM), to let them know what was happening, and that I would be missing practice.

There I was, using every last bit of ink in my favorite pen, a Pilot V-5, to scrawl my inner-most thoughts and fears in cursive. I could tell this moment was one that would alter the rest of my life, so I didn’t want to miss a thing.

“You have Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer.”

Writing all the more vehemently, I fought back tears, as my mom and other family members asked questions of the doctor. Questions that I would have never wanted the answer to. Especially at this point in my life. I was 20 years old at the time. I was not supposed to be informed on such things as medical power of attorney, different cancer treatments, and life expectancy. I had taken the typical mind-set of mortality avoidance, but now there was no chance of that. My mom’s and my own mortality began to take over my thoughts completely. All I could think of was “5 months.” That was all the time I had to emulate a lifetime with my mother.

At first, when calling my friends, I feigned a convincing line about how “I was just glad that I have a heads-up, and that I have time.” To which they would respond by commending my strength and emotional maturity. I was unsure of how I really felt, but by the end of the week, I had used that same line so many times that I began to truly believe that it was how I felt.

Somehow, I managed to convince my professors to allow me to finish my entire course-load for the semester largely from home. Remotely, I did my class-work, and flew in or drove into Vermont for the occasional exam and for Finals Week. All the while, I would watch my team compete virtually, missing every moment of my athletic glory. (Even missing those early morning conditioning sessions!) Anything that wasn’t sitting in the oncology department watching the staccato drip of an IV seemed like something I wanted or should have been doing.

As the fall semester came to a close, and I enjoyed, as much as I could, my winter break, I had to start planning what I would do about school. I had promised my roommates back in Vermont that I would try to be back by the spring, fall at the latest. But it became clear that it was not an option for me to return to school 10 hours away from home. Perhaps if my parents were still married, or if any of my mother’s relatives lived near us, I could have. Even then, I would have regretted not taking advantage of every single moment that I had left. My time with my mother was the sand within an hourglass. Please excuse my employment of such a banal metaphor, but there’s really nothing else that comes to mind. Nothing else compares. Each second a grain of sand that slips by with no possibility of retrieval.

At this point, I was completely torn between my need for a normal life of going to college with my best friends and spending the limited time I had left with my chronically ill mother. It seems easy, right? Obviously, family took precedence for me, but there is no way to describe the inner dissonance I was having. That divergence in my timeline was harder than anything I could have ever imagined.

Here I was, wishing I could be back at school. But did that mean that I wanted my mother to be dead? No, definitely not. Then why did I want to be at school so badly? I had trouble forgiving myself for having had that thought. So much so that my usually dormant anxiety began the take the better of me. I was feeling lower than I had ever felt and I was unsure of what to do. I wanted to be strong. I needed to be. How was it that my own mother was handling things better than I was? She was hardly batting an eye.

It was then that I realized that despite how okay and together I tried to make myself appear, I needed to let myself feel. I researched local therapists and booked myself an appointment.

Today is the “one year anniversary,” if you will, of the day my mom received her diagnosis. I am still home, but I have accepted that life is not a trajectory. Things get in the way, timelines get tangled, and it can get hard. But those are the times when it is paramount to let yourself feel everything; to be present in every moment and take life as it comes is the best gift you could possibly give yourself and those around you. Also, I have learned that while pretending you are okay can get you by for a while, admitting that you aren’t to yourself and to others is the only way to get there.

So, back to this morning. My sister is finally finishing her senior year at UMD, after taking this past year off to help at home. I am interning at an amazing non-profit organization, while struggling with Calculus. And our mother is still fighting her battle, miraculously.

I may have forgotten my coffee mug this morning, but today is quite possibly one of the best days I have had in a long time.

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The Only Way Out is In http://activemindsblog.org/the-only-way-out-is-in/ Thu, 22 Sep 2016 13:00:24 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5441 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.

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Mental Health News Round-Up: July 15 http://activemindsblog.org/mental-health-news-round-up-july-15/ Fri, 15 Jul 2016 12:54:00 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5246 Pokemon Go Having Unintended and Amazing Effects on Players’ Mental Health

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Who would’ve thought we’d hear “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” again? Who would’ve thought a video game would be beneficial to your mental health? Pokemon Go is an interactive app where users can walk around outside and catch different Pokemon. It has encouraged people to get up and get some exercise while learning their surroundings – any many people are reporting that it’s helping with their depression and anxiety!
Pediatricians Urged to Screen for Suicide Risks Among Teens
A new American Academy of Pediatrics report encourages family doctors to screen all teenagers for risk of suicide. The risk of suicide among teens is heightened by factors such as bullying, physical/sexual abuse, or issues related to sexual or gender identity.

New Mental Health Program Helps Students Transition to Campus
University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus is implementing its Supported Education program to help students with mental illness get ready for college. This program helps students who have been away from school for a while due to mental health issues get used to studying and school again.
Olympian Allison Schmitt: Bringing Darkness of Depression to Light
There’s a stigma about mental health when it comes to professional athletes. People believe that if their physical health is great then their psychological health is in shape too. Olympic swimmer Allison Schmitt opens up about how her time trials weren’t the only trials she struggled with. She talks about her depression and the importance of openly talking about mental health among athletes.
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How Active Minds Changed My College Career http://activemindsblog.org/how-active-minds-changed-my-college-career/ Mon, 27 Jun 2016 12:55:20 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=5097 Hannah Metzger is a former member of Active Minds at West Chester University and is currently serving as a summer intern for the Active Minds Speakers Bureau.

SelfieThe transition into college is rarely a quick and easy one to make. You go from the comfort of your hometown and people you’ve known for years to a very different environment full of strangers and new things to explore. It’s difficult to find a new group of friends, or a place that feels comfortable for you to express yourself. Even if you stay close to home, as I did, it’s still a huge difference from the daily routine you mastered in high school. Because of this transition, many people struggle with mental health issues that may have not been present before.

Though I had experienced some issues with anxiety and depression in the past, nothing could have prepared me for the storm of emotions that was brewing and coming my way.

As always, I was anxious during the first week of classes and feeling overwhelmed with all of the work I was going to be expected to complete over the semester. Had it not been for the support from my mom, I still think I may have dropped out that week and let the anxiety win. She kept a firm hand on my shoulder and led me through the next few weeks. All the while, I tried to hold my head high, maintain my composure, and make daily life as bearable as possible.

About two months into my first semester, I lost that sense of composure and felt my world crumbling down on top of me. Terrified about what may come next, I confronted my mom and told her that for the first time, I was considering ending my own life. As someone who has lost her father and 14-year-old brother to suicide, this was the hardest thing that I have ever had to admit. Saying those words out loud made everything so real, and it petrified both my mother and me. After many tears and hours in hospital waiting rooms, it was decided that I was stable enough to attend an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) rather than being hospitalized in an inpatient program.

A month later, I was finished with the program and feeling considerably better. I had a much more positive outlook on life, and was working hard to find happiness within myself. The only thing that I was still struggling with, was finding that place on campus that felt safe and comfortable. Early in my spring semester, I discovered Active Minds and found exactly what I had been looking for. Not only did their mission align with many of my personal interests, but the people were inviting and always offered support when needed. It was, by no means, a replacement for therapy, but it gave me a place to express my thoughts and feelings where it seemed that people genuinely cared.

Towards the end of the semester, elections were approaching and nobody was interested in being the President of our chapter on campus. Mostly as a joke, since I was still new to the organization, I offered to run. Though I ended up running against someone who probably knew more about the organization, I was elected president! I was fortunate enough to hold that office for both my sophomore and junior year, stepping down before my senior year to give someone else a chance, and to focus on preparing for graduation.

During my sophomore year, I was lucky enough to attend the Active Minds National Mental Health on Campus Conference at Georgetown University. That weekend is when I really fell in love with Active Minds and all the work that it does. I met some incredible people, heard heart-wrenching stories, and connected with strangers on a level that I have yet to achieve with some personal friends. I felt like I was finally in a place where my voice could be heard and nobody would turn away for fear of upsetting my fragile heart. People genuinely wanted to hear my story and share theirs in return.

While attending the conference this past year in Irvine, California, I heard about the Active Minds Internship Program. In that moment, I knew what I wanted to do. CORRECTION: I didn’t want to, I HAD to. I worked hard to piece together my resume and cover letter to make it as appealing as possible, so they had no choice but to hire me as a summer intern. About two months before my graduation, I got the email I had been waiting for- I GOT THE INTERNSHIP! I was absolutely thrilled and quickly began thinking about what I needed to accomplish before I left in May. I graduated the first weekend in May and began counting down the days until I would move to DC and start working for my favorite organization.

From my very first day, the entire staff welcomed me with open arms. I never felt like a lame little intern, while everyone else was a real staff member. Everyone is treated with respect and the office environment is very friendly, making it easy to ask questions. It may only be my third week here, but I already feel like I have found a second family in the Active Minds community.

Had I not discovered Active Minds during my freshman year, I may have never found that sense of belonging. Maybe I would have joined a different club or organization on campus, but I don’t think any of them could have aligned with my interests nearly as well. It may sound cliché, but I honestly believe that Active Minds has, and will continue to, change my life.

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Stress Less Week: Am I An Imposter? http://activemindsblog.org/stress-less-week-am-i-an-imposter/ Thu, 21 Apr 2016 12:58:59 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=2628 635799162532104738-236592369_208758e

Have you ever felt like an imposter?

Like any minute you’ll be found out for the fraud you really are?

That the extraordinary talent everyone says you have is really just average, and you can’t really achieve what they expect?

Me, too.

And it’s caused me anxiety my entire life.

Since I can remember I have been pushing myself to climb higher and reach further. At some point someone told me I was among the smartest kids in the room. I took that suggestion and made it my identity.

Through the end of my master’s degree I never earned anything less than an A-. And that whole time–with each assignment that came and went–I always felt like I was on the edge of imminent failure.

Anxiety disorders make you perceive threats everywhere. An anxious mind is uncomfortable with things been good and calm. So I stressed to the max. I wrung my hands over comma usage and word choice and proper citations. I thought by making those little things perfect, I could be perfect, too.

When I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in college one of my secondary diagnoses was obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I was obsessed with food and calories, and I felt compelled to exercise–every day.

Since then, the eating disorder voice is all but gone. Now when I feel like an imposter and totally incapable of success at work or in relationships, I project my anxiety onto activities I’m quite good at. For two years, I hated driving. I feared getting in the car. I imagined unknowingly causing accidents and just driving away completely unaware.

I used to love driving and although things are better now, I wonder if they’ll ever be the same as when I was 17.

Today, because of therapy and treatment, I can manage my anxiety. I can manage the fear of being “found out,” the mask pulled off, the imposter revealed.

If you think you’re struggling with anxiety, you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders among college students. Reach out and get help if you need it. Talk to someone and invest some time in getting back to yourself.

Sometimes all we need to do is stress less and laugh more. But if you’re wired like me, sometimes you need a little more help.

And that’s ok.

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Emerging Scholars Fellowship: Let’s Play With Some Data http://activemindsblog.org/emerging-scholars-fellowship-lets-play-with-some-data/ Wed, 20 Apr 2016 12:49:57 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4767 Matt is a researcher in the 2016 class of the Emerging Scholars Fellowship. Read blog updates from Matt and his fellow scholars here.

pikachuHello readers! I’m gearing up for a summer of reading, writing, and learning about college student mental health.

One of the best ways to learn about something, at least for me, is to just jump right into it and play with it and look at it. Lucky for me, much of the data I’m using for my project is available online to play with. Here’s some of the most interesting findings (in my opinion):

knowledge of services graph

This graph shows knowledge of services (i.e., counseling, hotlines, etc.) vs. where students are living.

Students living on-campus (OnOth, OnRes, Greek) have the highest knowledge of services, while students living off-campus (Off, Fam) have the lowest.Why is this? My guess is that students on-campus are highly exposed to information about resources, while students living off-campus don’t get this information as much.

anxiety v field of study graph

This graph shows anxiety vs. field of study. I’m only showing the largest and smallest four, as well as the average.

It shows that students in majors related to arts and design (e.g., architecture and music), as well as social work, have the highest anxiety. Students in business and engineering appear to have the lowest. Why is this? Perhaps the subjectivity of the coursework (e.g. grading a sculpture vs. mathematical calculations) causes greater worry for students in these majors.

While these are only two graphs, there’s a ton of other variables to look at, including stigma, help-seeking, substance use, numbers of years in school, gender, and race/ethnicity. I encourage you to go check out the data yourself!

These numbers represent real college students, and may help you come up with new ideas for programs. For example, do stress relief activities with arts students, or reach out to students living at home!

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Stress Less Week: Is it Stress or an Anxiety Disorder? http://activemindsblog.org/stress-less-week-is-it-stress-or-an-anxiety-disorder/ Sat, 16 Apr 2016 10:16:30 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4453 We often talk about stress and anxiety disorders as if they’re interchangeable. This isn’t surprising. A lot of the physical symptoms we experience with stress and anxiety are the same. Heart palpitations, sweating, rapid breathing, muscle tension, and headaches are all common symptoms.

Stress, of course, is a regular part of each person’s day–no matter how laid back they are.

Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, are not part of everyone’s experience. That’s why I think it’s important to clarify the distinction–especially as we head into finals season.

Stress enables us to get things done efficiently.

Most of us are motivated by things like deadlines, grading criteria, and page limits. They give us a framework for getting things done and help us understand the scope and expected quality of work. Can it be agitating to have to work under these parameters? Absolutely. Does it mean we produce a quality product on time? Usually.

Anxiety disorders prevent us from getting things done efficiently.

Unlike stress, anxiety disorders stop us in our tracks. They make us question every little decision. Sometimes our anxiety ensures that we are finished with a project way before the deadline, but that we’ll fixate on whether the most minute details are correct right up until the minute it is due. In other words, we might get our work done, but we put way more effort into it than we need to. This is neither productive, nor efficient. Other times it prevents us from acting at all for fear that we’ll do something wrong, be embarrassed, or fail entirely. That’s definitely not productive or motivating.

Stress passes.

Once a project is completed, a conflict is resolved, or a solution is found, the stress around that event dissipates. This is because stress typically has an external cause. So, once that cause is gone, so is the stress.

Anxiety persists.

Even after the deadlines have long passed, the fight you had with your friend has been smoothed over, or you’ve come to an answer to a life-changing question, the tightness in your chest, the shallowness of your breathing, and your constant thoughts about it all persist. You can’t do anything about it anymore. The external source of stress is gone, but your mind keeps going back to it–even days, weeks, and months later. Why? Because anxiety is perpetuated by persistent fear–not just passing stressors.

We can control stress.

With proper awareness of stress management techniques (and usually just listening to our bodies), we feel a sense of control over our stress. A walk, workout, meditation session, or sitcom binge helps us to bring our equilibrium back.

We have no sense of control over anxiety.

Anxiety is characterized by a feeling of helplessness. We are at a complete loss as to what we could possibly do to make the feeling go away. Maybe a workout or meditation session is helpful in the moment, but the feelings come flooding back after. We try all kinds of things, but nothing seems to help.

In reality, we can take control over stress and anxiety.

Throughout Stress Less Week, we will be sharing innumerable ways to relieve and manage stress as you finish up the academic year. But if you think you might be experiencing an anxiety disorder, don’t hesitate to seek help. The sooner we seek help for a mental health issue, including anxiety, the more likely we are to find relief and find ways to live our lives more happily and successfully.

Yup, it’s true. Onset of anxiety disorders often starts between the ages of 18 and 25. Don’t be afraid to seek help on campus, or find a local mental health professional who can get you back on a path to success.

Interested in reading more? Check out this Huffington Post article.

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How to Live Happily with Depression & Anxiety http://activemindsblog.org/how-to-live-happily-with-depression-anxiety/ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 13:20:08 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4572 This blog is a guest post from DrugRehab.com. Learn more about addiction and recovery.

MOA-anxiety-depression-headlines

Everyone suffers from depression or anxiety at some point in life. The feelings are natural during times of high stress, transition or after a traumatic event. Starting college, a new class, moving away from home or preparing for finals can cause anxiety, sadness or both.

However, there are healthy ways to overcome depression and anxiety. The easiest ways are to reduce the amount of stress in your life.

Tips for managing moments of high stress or anxiety:

  • Take deep, slow breaths.
  • Count slowly in your head.
  • Force yourself to think positive thoughts.
  • Visualize success.
  • Take breaks from long projects.
  • Avoid alcohol and other drugs.

Daily tips for reducing feelings of depression and anxiety include:

  • Make sure to get enough sleep at night.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • Exercise moderately.
  • Take a yoga or meditation class.
  • Participate in creative activity such as playing music.
  • Avoid isolation by connecting with friends and family.

For some people, feelings of depression or anxiety last for long periods of time. They’re unable to overcome unhappy feelings without help. That’s when it’s time to find help.

If you’re suffering from intense sadness for more than two weeks or you feel persistent symptoms of anxiety for more than a month, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder or a type of clinical depression.

Fortunately, most college campuses provide free mental health counseling services for students. Even if there isn’t a licensed therapist on campus, almost every college can refer students to a reputable therapist in the community.

Students should seek help from a therapist or counselor if they believe they are suffering from an anxiety disorder, depression or if they’re having thoughts of harming themselves or others. Talk therapy can often relieve symptoms of anxiety or depression.

In some situations, therapists may prescribe antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications. It’s important to talk to your therapist about the benefits and risks of medications and determine the best treatment for you.

Serious mental health problems can’t be cured with one or two therapy sessions. It takes time and hard work. Therapists will help you understand the underlying causes of sadness or anxiety and teach you strategies to overcome those feelings. It’s important to practice those strategies in between counseling sessions in addition to practicing the tips listed above.

Chris Elkins writes for DrugRehab.com — a comprehensive resource for addiction-related topics, including co-occurring mental health disorders and treatment options for recovery.

Sources:

1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress.

2. Mayo Clinic. (2013, June 11). Stress Management.

3. National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, March). Anxiety Disorders.

4. National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, March). Depression.

5. Old Dominion University. (n.d.). Tips to Reduce Anxiety and Stress for College Students.

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Recovery: It Requires Tethers http://activemindsblog.org/recovery-it-requires-tethers/ Fri, 12 Feb 2016 13:40:03 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4321 I623556d1e6aebbfb83925b44add83613t’s been 11 years since I walked out the doors of my eating disorders treatment program and into a windy, but mild February afternoon.

My time there had felt both quick and endless. The days were long, the nights were short, and the effects were profound.

Unlike many other people who struggle with eating disorders, I didn’t end up having to go back to inpatient treatment ever again. I don’t mean to imply the road from there has been all puppies and rainbows, but I do consider myself incredibly lucky.

Because eating disorders will stick with you.

Eating disorders are the most persistent mental health disorders you’ll find. They stick with you because they are a complex mish-mash of mental and physical disorders.

Your medical chart will invariably lead with a diagnosis of some type of anxiety disorder. Most of the time depression will be found there, too. And depending on which eating disorder is plaguing you and for how long, you might have high blood pressure, or the early signs of osteoporosis, tooth decay, heart palpitations, or (as in my case) the early stages of liver dysfunction.

I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa just before my 22nd birthday. For some this is late; for others it’s early. Eating disorders don’t discriminate based on age.

Anorexia is known in the mental health community as being the deadliest mental illness. Every aspect of your life—your brain, your body, your relationships, your soul—breaks down. But outside the community, anorexia is seen as a privileged white girl problem; a diet run amok; a problem of vanity, not of health.

Before I was diagnosed, I clung to these stereotypes, too. But by the time I walked out of those treatment center doors, those faulty beliefs were a thing of the past. Eating disorders don’t discriminate based on economics, race, ethnicity, or access to media messaging about body type.

On the contrary, wherever there is anxiety lurks the possibility of an eating disorder.

Wherever there is shame lurks the possibility of an eating disorder.

Wherever there is a need for control lurks the possibility of an eating disorder.

Wherever there is ambivalence about life lurks the possibility of an eating disorder.

For me, anorexia was grounded in anxiety. I was, and had always been, a perfectionist. I wanted intensely to be liked.

I wanted to be most likely to succeed.

And the obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis listed on my chart was over a decade in the making before it appeared there. Before I obsessed over calories and miles and pounds, I obsessed about getting the right answers, making the perfect throw to home plate, hitting the perfect golf shot, playing the right notes, and being exactly the kind of friend, daughter, and student I thought everyone expected me to be.

When I finally came out as gay at 21, any illusion of perfection I had tried to pull over others’ eyes seemed to be gone, and I grappled for anything else I could succeed at. I began to lose weight and hear those magic words, “You look great. Have you lost weight?”

“If you think this is good, I can do better.”

Better was smaller.

Better was tougher.

Better was less and less and less.

And more and more and more.

My OCD was abetted by major depression, which helped me hide the anorexia. Depression made me withdraw from things that made me happy—friendships, events, music. In that space, numbness grew. A deep ambivalence about what I was doing to my body and its effects. An ability to turn off all my emotions and just be a robot slave to the eating disorder voice in my head telling me what to eat and how to shed more pounds.

I couldn’t feel the pleasures of eating.

I couldn’t feel the pain of overexercising.

I could only feel shame.

“You deserve to be punished.”

And then my body started to break down, too.

My period stopped pretty early on, and over the months that followed my hair started to thin. My skin lost any kind of lustre, and I was cold all the time. I also started to get dizzy when I got up to do things—like help a student with a question while I was student teaching.

This led to some pretty stupid and untruthful explanations for why I fell down, or had to clutch the wall, or had to leave the room to my supervising teacher in the middle of a class.

When I was confronted by my psychiatrist, therapist, and parents about my physical condition (the last of several interventions by friends, family, faculty, etc.), I was already in pre-hepatic dysfunction. My liver endzymes were off the charts, which put me at greater risk for a heart attack. A heart attack from which they wouldn’t be able to revive me if it occurred.

I was hospitalized. At first for 72 hours locally, and then, after much debate and tears, to a live-in treatment facility a couple of hours away.

Treatment saved my life. Without it I wouldn’t be here writing this.

And I wouldn’t be here without my parents.

And I wouldn’t be here without my best friends.

And I wouldn’t be here without this persistent determination to change people’s minds about the nature of these pernicious diseases.

So, if you hang out with people peddling that b.s. about how someone’s eating disorder is just a cry for attention or an overinflated sense of vanity, set them straight. It’s time we recognized that eating disorders are serious illnesses. It’s time we recognized that they are treatable if people can access help and get it in time. It’s time we become a little bit more “there” for each other.

I’ve been in and out of therapy over the last 11 years. I have been on and off and on medications. I’ve taken up meditation. My positive coping mechanisms have evolved and changed. I’ve had the opportunity to help people through my work.

But the anxiety stays with me. The depression descends and lifts with time. The eating disorder voice only whispers now, but it still sneaks up on me just when I’ve forgotten about it and when I am most vulnerable.

That’s why I still need help from my family and friends. I need the tethers they offer to keep from drifting again.

That’s why I still need regular visits to my doctor and transparency about my medical history and current health habits.

I need my life lines. Someone out there needs you to be one, too.

I might have walked out of those treatment center doors alone 11 years ago, but I was going home to family and friends who have been with me every step of the way. And for the first time in a long time, I could see and feel the world around me.

If you’re wondering how to help a friend who is struggling, check out our Be A Friend resources.

If you or a friend need immediate help to find assistance for an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Information and Referral Hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Mental Health Monologues at Winona State University http://activemindsblog.org/mental-health-monologues-at-winona-state-university/ Mon, 21 Dec 2015 15:45:41 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4085 MHM 2015Active Minds at Winona State University recently won Active Minds’ Programming Innovation Award for their mental health story-sharing program, the Mental Health Monologues (check out their videos)! Based on the highly popular Vagina Monologues, students, faculty, and staff (some as actors and others as authors of the stories) brought mental health struggles to life by reading personal experiences with mental illness  in a theatrical setting.

The overall goal of this program was to “erase the stigma surrounding mental health and show that there is hope of treatment and recovery for mental illness.” They hoped that this emotionally-charged public presentation of personal stories would reveal the ways in which mental illness affects different people, whether they are personally struggling or supporting a loved one.

The chapter began planning seven months in advance and started by putting out a call for stories from students, staff, and faculty through their Facebook page, flyers around campus, and a campus-wide email. They set up an email account specifically for the purpose of soliciting stories which only two chapter members had access to in order to insure anonymity.  As they compiled  the stories, they also began pursuing directors and actors.

As theater rehearsals commenced, the organizing continued. The chapter booked a space, ordered T-shirts, designed the program, and planned concessions, They also started advertising the event by hanging  creative posters around campus, connecting with campus news outlets, sending emails, and posting on Facebook.

To put on such a large-scale event, they also needed to secure funding. They decided to request  funding from the Student Senate and Counseling Services rather than charging an admission fee.. They accepted donations at the door and at an Active Minds table to benefit the Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center.

The event was highly successful. With three shows in April 2015, the Mental Health Monologues attracted over 200 people from campus and beyond. Feedback from the campus community was overwhelmingly great; students connected to the stories and were inspired to tell their own stories. They group was  even asked to perform the monologues again at Hiawatha Valley Mental Health events.

The chapter was very conscious of the sensitive nature of some of the stories presented and took steps to insure that audience members were not triggered by attending the event. In the story selection process they worked with the authors to edit sections that could have been triggering and had information for the counseling center listed on the programs at the event, announced before and after the event, and at their table outside in the reception area. They also announced in the beginning and throughout the event that people were encouraged to leave the room if they needed.

Overall, this performance gave the chapter at Winona State University the opportunity to make new connections with on- and off-campus groups, spread the power of stories, and inspired others to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. This is a great program to bring to any campus to creatively share stories around mental health while building relationships across campus and potentially raising money for a great cause!

For more information about this program, check it out here!

 

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