Active Minds Blog » therapy Changing the conversation about mental health Wed, 25 May 2016 12:46:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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My Story: Recovering from Adolescent Bullying Tue, 28 Jul 2015 09:36:26 +0000 images

“Make a fist. Now I want you to punch the air!” yelled Dr. Lin.

“Was this what you do in therapy? What is the point of this?” I kept thinking. I sat there reluctantly, refusing to have a fake fight with the wind blowing from the ceiling fan. This was pointless, and I just wanted to leave.

“I don’t feel like it. I’m not angry, and I don’t need to be talking to you.” I cowered back.  This short, impatient man was not going to waste my time. I was in a state of too much denial and self loathing to accept that I needed help. I may not have been externally angry, but there was no question I was angry with myself.

Needless to say, my first therapy appointment was a total disaster. The reason my parents had forced me to talk to a psychologist was because I was deciding whether I was going to transfer high schools in the middle of ninth grade. Before making the investment to send me to private school 20 miles away, they wanted to make sure this was the right decision.

Upon reflection, it was really not that much of a surprise that I had been the target of so much bullying. As far as middle school went, I had failed in pretty much every way possible to be cool. I was overweight, unathletic (and worse didn’t even know things about sports), musically talented, an unbelievable push-over, and worst of all, Jewish. At my middle school in northern NJ being anything but white, athletic and Christian was more or less a death sentence on the middle school social totem-pole.

Every morning I woke up at around 6:45am to my Dad yelling that I needed to go school. In response, I tried to hide under the covers and pretend I was not there. Over the course of three years, I think I faked every ailment on WebMD to avoid going to class. My Dad, who was a doctor, had caught on very quick and stopped giving into my nonsense and would force me to get in the car. I did a really poor job trying outsmart him.

At around 7:45am, I arrived in home-room, which to my misfortune was organized by alphabetical last name. As I sat down, I was greeted by Jay, to my right, who reminded me everyday that I was a f****t and that he would punch me in the face if I looked at him. I did my best to try and reason with him, but this would only make him angrier. I had asked my homeroom teacher to switch seats about 100x, but he said that rules were rules.

My first class of the day was U.S. history which Jay also had as well. We walked into the classroom where he would be joined by his two best friends Tony, and Max who were also part of my morning welcoming committee. Every time I would raise my hand they would call me a Jewbag, and say that the fact that I was Jewish was the reason I knew the answers to my teacher’s questions. I mean it made sense, right?

After history, I would go to my least favorite activity of the day, gym. I would walk into the locker greeted by hail hitler arm raises to a room of people pegging quarters at me simultaneously. People would shout things like “cheap Jew” or worse, a “k**e”. Since I was Jewish, they reasoned I must have this inherent sixth sense where I was attracted to money and the loose change they pegged at my back.

But the worst part of the ordeal was that the gym teacher sat in the room as all of this went down every other day. His mission to become best friends with the football players and relive the middle school experience he never had far trumped any duty he had to help me. When I asked him to help me stop them, he responded it’s simply how athletes joke around and I wouldn’t understand because I wasn’t on any of the teams. So now, once again, this was my fault. I was clearly in the wrong. And my lifelong hatred of sports had officially developed.

At lunch, I sat across from Jordyn, who found his pleasure in the meals by telling holocaust jokes. He would point to the oven in the kitchen, and tell me that I should go jump in. He said I was fat enough that it would provide enough food for weeks, and that’s where the rest of my people would end up anyway. If I moved seats, the group would come over and poke my sides and throw coins in my meal. It was better to take the verbal abuse because at least I was allowed to eat.

Eventually 2:41pm would hit and I would be free from prison. I ran out of the school as soon as possible and tried to avoid making eye contact with people in the parking lot. Upset, and defeated I would go home, lie in bed, and not leave my room until the next morning. I was clearly depressed. But worse, over time, I began to believe that I deserved this. I developed the notion that if I could befriend these idiots, learn to laugh at myself, things would get better. But I was wrong, and this only made things far worse. I felt too much shame to talk about this with my parents. I had no friends that I could go to. Continuing to rat to my teachers only solidified this notion that I was weak.

Over time, Dr. Lin slowly convinced me that I needed to fight back and get angry. While I knew I could never fight these kids physically, I thought I could outsmart them. So in response, I developed a plan that I believed would make the administration realize how severe this was.

For the next month, I picked up all of the coins thrown at me and placed them in a plastic bucket. I realized that I was giving into the stereotype the bullies were hoping to perpetuate, but I did not really care at this point. Three weeks later, when the ½ gallon bucket was eventually full, I took the jar to the Principal’s office.

I had explained that this was the amount of coins that had been pegged at me because I was Jewish and listed the names of the kids involved. I asked that he talk to the students and explain that this isn’t right. He was horrified. He explained that there was a bullying speaker coming in the next month and hopefully this teach would teach the kids to stop. And to be honest, his efforts were helpful and I do believe he tried, but there were too many bullies for anything him to do long-term.

At this point, I was officially defeated. Despite testing in the 90th percentile and above throughout my entire academic career, I began to fail my classes. I sat in the bathroom instead of getting tormented by my peers. I never did homework. All I did was sleep, occasionally play X-box, and find ways to miss school. But I allowed this to go on. I never stood up for myself. I played into their jokes. I justified their actions. I deserved this.

Eventually, my parents, Dr. Lin and I decided it would be best to switch schools. While switching to private school did make my life somewhat better, I had traded a group of anti-semites for a higher class of more subtle bullies. But, hey, it was better than nothing.

Over time, I began to make friends from outside places. Through the leadership roles I took on in BBYO (my jewish youth group), and the sleep away camp I had attended, I finally found people that valued me as a person. I learned that I did not need to be tormented to be accepted. I was different than most, but that did not mean I didn’t have anything to offer.

In fact, my ability to appreciate the kindness in others and see the world in a different light gave me an incredible ability to read people and social situations in a way that others couldn’t. My lifelong hatred of bullies allowed me to become an advocate to those suffering and fight tirelessly on their behalf.

It is hardly surprising that bullying is often a precursor to anxiety and depression. Being forced to live a life of fear and instinct causes trust issues, self-esteem issues, and constantly makes you feel like you’re in danger. It limits a person’s help-seeking behavior, making these issues longer and more drawn out. It causes people to seek drugs to feel better, resulting in higher levels of abuse and addiction.

But upon reflection (and close to a decade of therapy), I have realized that I am the person I am today not because of the bullies, but rather, in spite of them. Students like myself are often bullied because they would do anything to fit in. We have a natural evolutionary instinct to belong and be accepted. People are willing to achieve this at pretty much any cost, especially when they’re young.

My psychologist explained to me that there are two types of people that come out of bullying situations: those who become so hopeless that they eventually give up and those who grow resiliency and fight back. I am proud to say that I got help at the right time which allowed me to come out strong from this situation. It shaped me to be a good person and appreciate the kindness in others.

Nearly 10 years later, I have made my peace with the bullies of my past. I don’t hate them. I understand why they did what they did. They were just trying to find friends in the cruel halls of middle school, just like I was. But the road they took to find acceptance was wrong. And I hope today the long-term impact they had on others was worth it. I certainly don’t think it was. Bullying is not a rite of passage. The pain lasts far longer than the time you’re in school.

To those who have faced bullying, my best advice is not give up because things will get better. But giving into those who only serve to bring you down will never find you happiness. Don’t try to be something you are not; the consequences can be deadly. Sometimes accepting that it is better to be alone and unhappy than take abuse from others is the strongest thing you can do. Our ability to believe in ourselves and be our own advocate is the best medicine to move forward.


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