Active Minds Blog » recovery Changing the conversation about mental health Wed, 25 May 2016 12:46:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Borderline Personality Disorder Month: Practicing Compassion Mon, 02 May 2016 12:41:53 +0000 Stacy is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring her to your campus to speak about mental health.

PrinceMemeOf all the quotes I’ve seen in the wake of Prince’s death — and I’m a Prince fan to the core — this is the most beautiful and resonant to me: “Compassion is an action word with no boundaries.”

I spent a lot of years having very little compassion for other people, because I had none for myself. This is the aspect of Borderline Personality Disorder that causes the greatest stigma; it’s what causes others to view us as willfully manipulative and cruel.

But what was really happening is that I was severely mentally ill and without proper help for a long, long time. When I was finally diagnosed with BPD and found Dialectical Behavior Therapy — which is basically CBT meets Zen Buddhism — I started to learn what it means to be connected to other people. That connection is the basis of compassion.

And I believe now — I KNOW now, because by practicing it, I help save lives — that compassion is radical activism. There is nothing more terrifying, raw, and profound than looking into the eyes of another being and realizing that their pain, their suffering, their fear, their joy, and their dreams are yours too.

That realization, and the compassion of the people who saw the good in me when I couldn’t, is the one and only reason I’m not dead.

So hell yeah, compassion is an action word. Because to keep from shutting yourself off and approaching the world from a place of anger and fear — and one of the things I learned in DBT is that anger is just a secondary emotion to fear — is the hardest, scariest thing you will ever do.

You have to work really, really hard at love to overcome fear. It’s the one and only way. And just as there’s no anger without fear, there’s no love without compassion.

All is connected. All are one. Compassion for yourself is compassion for others. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu. I love you.

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Stress Less Week: 12 Ways to Practice Self-Care During Finals Fri, 22 Apr 2016 13:05:46 +0000 This #StressLess Week, we challenged our social media followers to take extra good care of themselves by practicing self-care and then posting a #SelfCareSelfie. Once again, we were floored by the response (you guys are excellent selfie-takers) and want to keep this self-care train going.

Without further ado, here are 12 ways to practice self-care, as suggested by our stellar #SelfCareSelfie contributions:

1. Snuggle with a pet


2. Help out your community

3. Take care of your physical health

4. Play an instrument

SCS2 6. Spend some time in the sunshine


7. Spend time with loved ones (bonus points if it’s a kiddo)


8. Practice loving yourself


9. Take it easy


10. Get your nails done


11. Get some exercise

SCS10 12. Get a massage



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From the Speakers Bureau: Caring Words and a Listening Ear Wed, 20 Apr 2016 13:53:49 +0000 dave_romanoAt this time last year I was coasting by bicycle across Kansas during the inaugural Bike Across America for Mental Health. Looking back on that trip brings about bittersweet feelings, as it was one of the most rewarding and difficult endeavors of my life. I knew that going into the epic journey from sea to shining sea was going to be grueling. What I failed to foresee was the road that followed.

In the fall of 2015 I had just completed the over 3,200 mile long trip and was heading off to graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle. I saw this opportunity as a rebirth, a time to start over, and with that came the all too common thought that my mental health was under control; that I no longer required the self-care or support to which I had grown accustomed.

Everything first began to fall apart in September when my grandpa passed away. My grief along with my mental health negligence and the loneliness of a new city drove me further and further into isolation and depression. To cope with the despair I began to drink heavily, each day running further from sobriety and inevitably the reality of my pain.

After weeks of struggling in silence I finally found the courage to reach out to a professor, a woman that preached self-care and always finished class offering a listening ear if anyone needed to talk and that’s exactly what she did. She sat listening, compassionately, as I vented with tears in my eyes. We finished that talk by making a safety and self care plan. That conversation was all I needed; by simply listening she gave me hope that everything was going to be okay.

When I look back on this past year there is one lesson that continually presented itself, which is that it is okay to not be okay. It is a saying that I struggle to accept but thankfully I have had amazing people in my life, like my professor, that have reminded me of those words by simply showing they care.

Caring words and a listening ear are all it takes to change someone’s life. I know my professor did that for me, and today life continues to offer its challenges but that’s okay, because I know it’s always going to be okay.

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How to Live Happily with Depression & Anxiety Mon, 28 Mar 2016 13:20:08 +0000 This blog is a guest post from Learn more about addiction and recovery.


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


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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From the Speakers Bureau: What I Learned in the Yellow Jacket Nest Fri, 18 Mar 2016 14:25:08 +0000 meg blog pictureLast summer, while hiking with my sister and our three dogs, we stumbled into a nest of yellow jackets. They swarmed us, covering our bodies, stinging repeatedly as we hollered and fled down the mountain.

Safely back at the car, we shook the rest of them out of our pant legs. We loaded up on Benadryl. Everyone else seemed okay, but I felt like someone was stepping on my lungs. My mood dropped precipitously. I reassured my sister I was okay. I drove a few miles to our mom’s house.

My mom was getting ready to leave as I arrived. I lay down on the couch. “I’m fine,” I said. “I just need to lie down for a little while. You don’t need to stay.” I closed my eyes and waited. I felt like I might be dying but told myself that was ridiculous. Hadn’t I been stung often as a kid? I could handle this. I shouldn’t make anyone worry.

Hours later I was still feeling strange. I got as far as the gas station. I couldn’t think and my reflexes were poor. After a while I returned to my mom’s driveway. I knew she’d already changed the sheets on the guest bed. She was asleep. I didn’t want to bother her so I curled up in the back of the car with my dog.

At 5am I made the drive home to Boston.

A month later, while getting immunizations before starting grad school, I mentioned the incident to my primary care doctor. He started to ask questions. I told him I had felt pressure in my lungs. I told him my mood had plummeted but it was probably the Benadryl.

He looked at my very seriously. He said, “One of the symptoms of a severe allergy is an impending sense of doom.”  “It is?” I said, “I thought I was just overreacting.” “You need an EpiPen and you need to see an allergist immediately.”

I thought that was unnecessary but I made the appointment. The allergist did a blood test. The results showed that I was a level four. I had a life-threatening allergy. The allergist warned that a future sting could result in anaphylactic shock.

What does this have to do with bipolar?

For me, it is a reminder of behavior I learned long ago. When the symptoms of bipolar disorder first began at age 19 I learned to hide. Although I was finally properly diagnosed at age 28 and have been diligent in treatment ever since, that learned behavior is deeply rooted in me. I revert to it when I’m not doing well.

Long ago I learned to keep my problems to myself, to wait it out until I felt better. I hid my symptoms of bipolar disorder for so long that it nearly killed me.

Why did I hide? For many reasons:

1.) I wasn’t educated about symptoms and didn’t really understand what was happening to me.

2.) I was a classic overachiever and felt that being loved was somehow contingent on being perfect

3.) My parents were former hippies who raised us to believe that poetry, kale, and nature walks were the best antidote to “feeling a little blue.”

4.) I am stoic and have always prided myself on being self-sufficient and in control of my feelings.

5.) I thought that depression was a sign of weakness and that surely I had the willpower to overcome it on my own.

That approach to mental illness nearly cost me my life. The yellow jacket incident reminded me that these ingrained coping mechanisms require a lifetime of awareness. Long after we seek treatment, we must continue to practice reaching out.

Please don’t make the mistake I made and wait so long to seek help.

Communication is the equivalent of an EpiPen when it comes to mental illness. No one should have to make the journey without it.

It is life-threatening to try to make the journey without it.

I continue to learn that asking for help is a sign of tremendous self-awareness and strength.

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Worried About a Friend? Here’s How to Support Them Fri, 26 Feb 2016 13:23:48 +0000 For most of my life, I’ve wished that I had some sort of a handbook for being a friend. I think I do a pretty decent job (although, I suppose you’d have to check with my friends on that one), but there’s no way to be there for someone perfectly all the time.

I mean, how many times have I told a friend I knew how they felt without really having any idea whatsoever?

How many times have I just jumped to giving advice and solving the problem when all they needed was a sounding board?

How many times did I know someone was struggling, but I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything at all?

The truth is that there’s no perfect way to be a friend, and that’s especially true when you’re trying to help a friend admit they need help, seek that help, get the help, and manage their recovery. There are way too many variables in play.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little guide for that journey?

That’s why we created the Be A Friend resources.

If you have questions about whether the warning signs you’re seeing in your friend’s behavior might be a sign of distress, we’ve got you covered.

If you’re wondering how to react when a friend who is in need of help stops going to therapy, we’ve got you covered.

If you’re wondering how to take care of yourself while you do an incredible job of being an amazing support person, we’ve got you covered.

We’ve also added personal stories from members of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau–they’ll tell you what their journey was like, how friends and family helped them through it all, and their advice for being there for a struggling friend.

It’s not the end all, be all of resources. But we look forward to hearing what you think, adding your stories, and continuing to expand the content to include more specialized resources on identity development and the impacts of trauma and discrimination.

You’re a great friend. We’re just here to help you show it.

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Eating Disorders Awareness Week: The Connection with Trauma Wed, 24 Feb 2016 14:50:42 +0000 Trigger warning: This post discusses sexual violence. If you need assistance, please visit Crisis Text Line, the National Eating Disorder Association or the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.


What does trauma have to do with an eating disorder?

This is the question I asked myself over and over again, but it’s a question we don’t seem to talk about.

What did my sexual assault have to do with my eating disorder? I struggled to put the pieces together. I poured over scholarly literature, using my school’s online library to find any research I could that examined the connection between rape and eating disorders.

But the literature was scarce, and even more scarce was the information online that examined the intersection between trauma and eating disorders. The discussions about these issues existed in separate spheres. Sexual assault advocacy seemed to center around helping survivors report the assault, seeking some sort of justice for the atrocity we’ve experienced.

But, to me, the onus is still on the survivor to report–and the shame I felt, the powerlessness, was exacerbated by the feeling that I was supposed to be fighting a battle against my assailant–not a war against myself.

Eating disorder recovery seemed to be in a different realm as well. When I entered into treatment again in the summer of 2015, it was so hard for people to understand why I was holding onto the eating disorder. I didn’t want to be sick, I knew what it was like and I knew what I was losing–my desire to be an advocate, my voice and my life.

My eating disorder wasn’t about fitting into a thin “ideal,” it wasn’t about looking “pretty” or being accepted. In fact, it was pretty much the opposite–I wanted to disappear, to feel safe and to shrink my body so that no man could possibly find me attractive–so that, I thought, I couldn’t get hurt again. This was hard for people to understand because it doesn’t fit within the stereotypes we associate with eating disorders, and it didn’t seem to fit with any of the common factors that can contribute to eating disorders.

The shame and subsequent isolation I felt drove me to search for a sense of community–to search tirelessly for anyone who had a similar experience, who could relate and understand the connection between my assault and eating disorder.

In December of 2015, I began reading Controlled, a book by Neesha Arter, an inspiring woman who has come to be one of my closest friends. I couldn’t put the book down. I kept highlighting passages, writing sentences down in my journal, thinking the whole time, “Oh my God, she gets it.”

Neesha recounts her experience with sexual assault, and her subsequent battle with anorexia. There are so many passages in this book I could present here that describe what I felt and I find so much of myself in her writing. But this particular quote I will share and it is very important to me.

“My body felt divided and broken from my mind, like a shattered piece of glass on the floor. Those two boys had damaged it beyond repair. It had no beauty left in it, and I didn’t my respect anymore. The memory of their hands on my body and inside of me took away any ownership I had for myself.” (p. 54.)

I found my story reflected in Neesha’s. Finally, someone had put into words what I had felt and someone spoke up about the intersection of trauma and eating disorders, putting together the pieces that I had struggled to connect.

In Neesha, I found the “other me,” someone who shared my story and my truth.

So often we hear, “You’re not alone.” It’s a true and very valid statement, but it wasn’t until I was able to really connect with another person, to talk with her and to share our stories, that I truly felt I wasn’t alone.  

I realize that this piece may not be as uplifting as many eating disorder posts are. I haven’t include some kind of “happy ending” or wrapped the post up with some larger realization I’ve discovered through this process. That’s not what this post is about.

My hope is that we can start a dialogue about the ways sexual assault and eating disorders intersect, that we speak up and break the shame, and potentially find your “other me.”

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10 Mental Health Resolutions for 2016 Thu, 31 Dec 2015 13:56:35 +0000 Everyone has different opinions about the New Year. Some people think it is a fresh start, a new chapter, a time to reflect on life. But others may find the new year hard, like a reminder of past failures or “just another day.” As 2016 starts, it’s no doubt that we will be inundated with people’s new resolutions for what the new year will bring. Too often, these resolutions are focused on things that can be unhelpful- or even harmful- to one’s mental health. So here are 10 resolutions for 2016 that have potential to help your mental health.

1. Make time for real self-care.

NY Resolutions #1 FB

I’m not talking about the frilly self-care that is all over the internet (which is still important- do those things too!) I’m speaking to truly taking care of your whole being: getting enough sleep, fueling your body with food, drinking more water, going outside, taking your medication, whatever entails wellness for you.

2. Challenge negative thinking patterns.

NY Resolutions #2 FB

Every day, our minds fall into mental traps. We catastrophize situations, we see things as black and white, we think we know what other people are thinking. Cognitive behavior therapy aims to change these thought patterns in order to improve mental health. Learn more about different types of negative thought patterns and how to change them here.

3. Ask for help when I need it.

NY Resolutions #3 FB

Sometimes, we forget that it’s okay to ask for help. Even Stigma Fighters, who are advocating for mental health and showing others the pathways to help, may avoid reaching out when they are struggling. It’s important to remember that everyone deserves the help and support they need- including you.

4. Be more mindful and present in life.

NY Resolutions #4 FB

Life can rush past us- especially these days with all the technology surrounding us. We sit on our phones when we’re out to meals with friends and we watch tv shows while having a conversation with a family member. Mindfulness means paying attention to what you are doing in the current moment. It means showing up and actually interacting with what is around you, not just being there. When we are more present in life, we get more fulfilment out of our activities.

5. Be non-judgmental with myself.

NY Resolutions #5 FB

It’s so easy to label ourselves with all sorts of things: failure, loser, not good enough, etc. Being non-judgmental with yourself is letting yourself be who you are and not judging yourself when you mess up (which you will.) It means being less self-deprecating and more self-loving and accepting. We often give more kindness to others than we do to ourselves, so this year be gentle with you.

6. Spend time with people who matter most to me.

NY Resolutions #6 FB

Time management is hard, but this year try to make room for the people who really deserve to be there. Toxic relationships harm our mental health more than we can see and damages our view of what a healthy relationship should look like. Invest your energy into the people who invest it right back into you. The relationships in your life should be mutual, not one-sided.

7. Allow myself to feel all emotions.

NY Resolutions #7 FB

People tend to set goals like “be happy!” or “always be positive!” While it is great to think big and optimistically, it’s also important to recognize that happiness is a feeling, not a state of being. No one is happy all the time! Life happens, things get in the way, and the happiness will come and go. This focus on happiness can make it seem like all other emotions are bad- which they’re not! Mental wellness means being able to feel ALL the feels- not just the pretty ones. Don’t beat yourself up over a bad day and don’t set yourself up for disappointment when happiness subsides. Accept that emotions are a part of life and feel those feels!

8. Take a break when I need rest.

NY Resolutions #8 FB

Stigma Fighters do hard work. You are constantly surrounded by so many stories of pain and loss that the hope can fade away sometimes. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed (whether it be work or school or advocacy or whatever), set things aside and take the time you need to get yourself back on track. If you run yourself into the ground, it’s much harder to dig back up. Stop before it gets there, take a break when you feel it coming so you can ready yourself to take things on again.

9. Start where I am with what I have.

NY Resolutions #9 FB

Comparing yourself to others is probably one of the worst things you can do to your self esteem and self worth. There’s always going to be someone better than you or worse than you, so what is the point? Exactly, there isn’t one. You are a unique human being with your own life path- past, present, and future. Use the tools and resources you have in and around you and work from there. Don’t look at other people’s lives as a means of comparison, but as an inspiration to your own journey.

10. Stay alive.

NY Resolutions #10 FB

If you take anything away at all, let it be this. This is truly the only essential thing on this list, because without it, there is nothing. Your life is so worthy of living, and we can’t wait to see where you go. 2016 will be a victory, even if all you did was breathe.


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This PostSecret Submission Shocked Frank Warren Thu, 29 Oct 2015 08:46:18 +0000 Want to bring Frank to your campus to talk about PostSecret and mental health? Learn more here.


This PostSecret submission arrived at my home yesterday and shocked me.

It shocks me because it reveals how this generation is courageously changing how we understand our mental wellness.

When I was younger, I struggled with depression and anxiety, like many of us, but I kept it a secret and in the darkness it got worse.  I suffered longer, needlessly, because I was afraid that if others knew my struggles they would judge me. The old stigmas handed down from earlier generations kept me from asking for the help that was waiting for me.

I am so hopeful that this generation will continue to take ownership of mental wellness issues so that never again will we be ashamed to tell our stories and get the help we deserve.

Submit your own secret to PostSecret today.

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5 Ways to Care for Your Mental Health on Halloween Wed, 28 Oct 2015 15:42:41 +0000 Halloween is a big holiday. It seems that as soon as it hits October, the entire internet is decked out and ready for Halloween to happen.

Everyone wants to go to haunted houses, watch scary movies, and do other fear-inducing activities leading up to the actual night of fright. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys feeling scared, so this holiday can be unsettling.

For some, it can even trigger panic attacks, induce high anxiety, and cause trauma flashbacks. But Halloween doesn’t have to harm your mental health — here are some tips on how to take care of yourself during this time!

1. Pick a fun costume (or just stay in your PJ’s)
Halloween does not have to be scary! There are plenty of costumes that are not bloody, gory, or frightening- there are also plenty that are not “sexy.” Pick something that feels comfortable to you. Some ideas are: a role model of yours, a cute animal, a character from a book/movie/show, or a funny pun! If you don’t feel like dressing up at all, that’s okay too.

You can be as cute as this dog.

2. Stay in if you don’t want to go out
If you don’t feel up to a party, don’t go! Drinking tends to be a big part of the Halloween experience, especially in college, but don’t feel pressured to partake if you don’t want to. It’s totally okay to stay in with some not-so-scary movies and candy for yourself.

All the candy!!!

3. Do fun, non-scary Halloween/Fall activities
There are so many things you can do besides scaring yourself: apple picking, carving pumpkins, baking pumpkin desserts, and making caramel apples are all great alternatives. Grab some friends and have fun doing some non-threatening activities.

Pick up a nice pumpkin, a carving kit, and a friend for some Halloween fun.

4. Be prepared to see stigmatizing costumes
We live in a world where, unfortunately, mental health stigma still exists. It sucks, but it’s true. You may see people dressed as (what they perceive to be) mental patients, “crazy” people, an escapee from the psych ward, and other offensive costumes. These can be really upsetting to those who live with mental illness. Know that you’re not alone in finding them upsetting and that people are taking action to try to make them go away.

Yeah, I am smh at these costumes too, Oprah.

5. Know your triggers and have a safety plan
Things like loud noises, scary costumes, and other creepy Halloween things can cause a panic attack or flashback. If you know that certain things on Halloween may trigger you, have a plan on how you will deal with it. If you’ll be with friends, talk with them about your triggers and what they can do to support you. It’s important to know what can calm you down so that you can stay safe this Halloween!

Now get out there (or stay in) and have a great and safe Halloween!

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