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BY ETHAR ELTIGANI HAMID

Before My Diagnosis

The last time I took a psychological assessment, I was thirteen. Now, ten years later, I’m completing another psychological test. Some of the examinations I’ve undergone so far in this process are a long questionnaire (“Do you feel that your self-esteem is high?” “Do you ever feel more talkative than usual?” are some of the questions I’ve been asked), an inkblot test, and a ‘make up a story by looking at these pictures’ exercise. The inkblot test was pretty fun (I saw some cool-looking sea creatures on one card, a dark ghost-like figure on another, and what appeared to be a water-color painted garden, or something, on another). I think it is the hype around inkblots that made the experience of taking an inkblot test enjoyable, for me. The exercise in which I had to make up stories by looking at a series of picture cards was kind of uncomfortable, though. It felt sorta like kindergarten, except a grown-up kind of kindergarten; one in which the answers you give during the play-time exercise will determine whether your mind is either sick, or very sick. So; a dark and twisted kindergarten, really.

Between my first psychological assessment (all those years ago) and today, I’ve dealt with a variety of symptoms: psychosis, mania, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression. Bipolar type I and psychotic depression were my two major diagnoses, during this stretch of time. (The diagnoses were given at separate times, by two different psychiatrists.) And I’ve missed a total of about nine months of school, as a result of my mental illness symptoms.

From doing my own studies and research (online) into my past symptoms, I’ve concluded that this latest psychological evaluation that I’m undergoing will reveal a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Or schizophrenia. Or something similar to either of those. To be honest, part of me wishes that schizoaffective disorder is the “worst” it will be.

Thanks to the current societal consensus (and my own self-esteem), I hope my diagnosis is not “schizophrenia.” “Schizoaffective disorder” has some cutesiness to it. It’s the “affective” part–the mood disorder part–that softens and glamorizes the disorder, to a certain small extent. I’m quite sure of this phenomenon. After all, everyone can relate to mood disruptions, hence the softer reception upon hearing ‘schizoaffective disorder’. And having a disruption or disorder with one’s mood draws up a certain, albeit irrational, admiration; S/he feels things deeply; she’s such a tortured soul, and etc. All in all, it is thanks to schizoaffective disorder being in large part a mood condition that pacifies and excites people, to a certain extent.

“Schizophrenia,” on the other hand, is such a damper. It’s such a full-blown monster of a disease, in many people’s eyes. As a result, no one really wants to hear it–no matter how much you’re hurting…no matter how much you want to be open about it.

Obviously, I don’t condone the fact that aspects of society have designated some disorders as acceptable—almost “cool”, and others as repugnant. (Like, with the mood disorder thing, again. I mean, bipolar these days is considered almost “in,” in certain scenarios. And depression, though painful and ugly in most respects, is sometimes portrayed as a cool character quirk, rather than a serious illness.) And I don’t condone the fact that some mental disorders are much more stigmatized than others. Yet, I fall for such dangerous beliefs and social constructs.
~
I am eager to find out what exactly has been plaguing me for the past 10 years, since my past diagnoses were apparently wrong, or faulty. So in that regard, I can’t wait for my diagnosis.

At the same time, I am kind of worried. What if it’s schizophrenia? What the heck will I say to people? What can I say? I don’t think we, as a species, have come up with a reasonable answer to that, yet.

~

After My Diagnosis

Last week, I received a new mental health diagnosis. My diagnosis used to be bipolar, and then, some years later, psychotic depression. Now, after having completed a lengthy psychological evaluation, I was told (and I read in my report) that “schizoaffective disorder, depressive type” is “most appropriate, at this time” (“this time” being February, 2017—eleven years into my mental health issues).

I’m satisfied with this diagnosis. I feel that it suits me much better than the former two. To be honest, I was expecting a diagnosis of “schizophrenia, paranoid type,” to a large degree. But hearing the words “schizoaffective disorder” creates a “this is just right” feeling, in me. And a significantly relief, as well.

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental disorder characterized by both schizophrenia symptoms and mood disorder symptoms. And from what I read online (through mayoclinic.org, nami.org, and other sites), the diagnosis is made when a patient shows symptoms of both conditions, but does not strictly meet the criteria for either one, alone. In my case, the “schizophrenia symptoms” are mainly paranoid delusions, and the “mood disorder symptom” is depression. (Others might have hallucinations and/or delusions as their “schizophrenia symptoms,” mixed with “bipolar mood symptoms,” in which case they might receive a diagnosis of “schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type.”)

I will be cautious with disclosing my new diagnosis to others. This is a choice I am consciously making. While I was under a bipolar diagnosis, I only told my closest friends (well, friend) about my condition. Even then, I only mentioned it twice, I think, for fear of alienating myself from her. While I was under a “psychotic depression” diagnosis, I didn’t really tell anyone. It was the “psychotic” part that I knew was really stigmatized in our societies. Sometime, I would even lie (half lie?) and say that I had depression—leaving out the “psychotic” part, because I knew it would change the way people look at me.

With this new diagnosis, I don’t think I will tell anyone. I know it’s much better-received than its sister condition, schizophrenia. But we’re a long way before the phrase “schizo-anything” is acceptable, or even tolerated.

Ethar E. Hamid is an aspiring writer and artist from Khartoum, Sudan, currently living in northern Virginia. She hopes to contribute to the worldwide discussions about mental health, black/POC experiences, Muslim experiences, and the experiences of other marginalized people, through her work.

 

a tuesday fifteen years ago

BY SAMANTHA PAIGE ROSEN

samantha

The look I had prepared for my first day in a new school consisted of a sheer brown and tan peasant top, a calf-length jean skirt, and brown sandal clogs, the platforms of which were, according to my mother, too high for an eleven-year-old. It was a bold choice to wear a skirt on the first day of sixth grade. I didn’t want to seem too girly. A little feminine was fine, but too girly was not cool, hence the jean skirt. I wanted to be cool this year. The Rosen girls were never cool.

The next day I wore a pink zip-up sweater over a white tank top with rows of sparkly hearts and a built-in bra that I didn’t yet need. This combination resurfaced at least once a week. Later in the year, when we were partners for a biology project, a cute boy named Peter asked, “Do you ever wash that shirt?!” and laughed his way over to where his friends were sitting, saddling me with the rest of the assignment. Peter’s comment made an anxious girl like me obsess even more over my outfits than I already did.

The third day of school featured green cargo capri pants and a bronze lace tank-top. This was a cool outfit. Then a girl named Marjorie cruised into advisory on convertible roller-skate sneakers. I couldn’t stop admiring them but I didn’t even entertain the thought of buying my own pair. They were probably too expensive and I wasn’t entirely confident that I wouldn’t crash into the lockers, books flying, if I did wear them.

By Friday, I was in possession of a Juicy Couture shirt—my first ever! It was navy with the phrase “Material Girl” in red sparkly letters. I coerced my mother into taking me to the boutique Bala Girls Club instead of our usual Kohl’s or Old Navy by stressing that everyone seemed to have the velour pants and zip-up sweatshirt set that ran about $120 but all I wanted was one Juicy item. We left with the $45 cotton t-shirt that made a weekly appearance after its Friday debut. Peter declined to comment.

The next Monday I took my red and white sparkly heart tank top out of the dryer and stepped back into the jean skirt I wore the first day of school. I surveyed myself in the full-length hallway mirror, all the way down to my red flip flops, smiling proudly at my matching skills.

Then Tuesday happened. That day is more vivid than any other in my mind, but I can’t remember what I wore.

***

 We had just started second period math—my least favorite subject. Mrs. Pettit came around to collect homework as we copied down the problems on the board. The classroom phone rang and Mrs. Ketterer picked it up. A few minutes later, around 9:15, the PA system clicked on. “All students please report directly to your advisories. All students please report directly to your advisories. Thank you.”

Yessssss! I said under my breath, secretly thanking fate for this gift. I didn’t believe in God, but fate made sense to me. Even in elementary school, math had been a struggle. I just couldn’t understand it; the word itself made me nervous. I would ask my teachers why one step in an equation preceded or followed another. Why was it parentheses, exponent, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction (something I only still know because of the acronym: “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” and I actually have an Aunt Sally)?

“It just is,” they would sigh. But I couldn’t memorize the steps if I didn’t understand them, and I couldn’t understand them until I knew why we were supposed to do them. I couldn’t understand anything—not fully—unless I could figure out the why that I believed should follow the how. I still can’t.

I waited in the hallway in front of padlocked gymnasium doors with my advisory, a group of fifteen sixth graders with nothing in common except the first letter of our last names. Gym teacher Dr. Smith, our Grinch-like drill sergeant advisor, was at least fifteen minutes late. He was never late. First no math, now no Dr. Smith? This day is awesome!

I view people like Dr. Smith as a challenge. If I can make them smile, win them over, it feels like I can find the humanity in everyone.

From the far end of the hall a woman barked, “What are you doing out here?!”

I took one for the team, as usual. “We’re waiting for our advisor, Dr. Smith, but we don’t know where he is.”

She brought us to the Main Office and handed us off to another adult without saying a word. We crammed into the office hallway where I noticed four or five students sitting in chairs, crying. Before I could consider why they might be crying, we were ushered into a conference room. There weren’t enough seats for everyone but I snagged a chair at the far end of the table.

Someone came in to talk to us, maybe a little before 10:00 a.m. It wasn’t the principal or the vice principal. It wasn’t the school counselor either—she was tending to the crying students. Whoever it was said something about planes flying into the World Trade Center in New York City. Whatever explanation she gave no longer registers with me, but I remember her offer.

“If any of you have friends or family in New York and you need to talk, come in anytime. And please, if you have brothers and sisters at the elementary school, do not tell them.”

After hearing the news I thought, I still don’t understand why people are crying. What happened was bad. But I wasn’t sad or scared, even though my aunt and uncle lived in Manhattan. I couldn’t connect the idea of planes crashing into buildings to the human beings on the planes or inside the towers. I couldn’t imagine the how, so I couldn’t understand the why. Not yet.

My mom heard the news while in line at Starbucks, after dropping off my sister Liz at her Jewish preschool. She confirmed that her own sister was unharmed as she drove back to our synagogue to pick up Liz. The Jewish community feared that the attacks might be anti-Semitic.

***

The rest of my school day, like my outfit choice, was a blur.

When the bell rang, I walked next door to the elementary school to meet my sister Jen at her third grade classroom. Usually we waited a few minutes for Mom to pull into the pickup circle. Today she was already there.

After once again scolding me for slamming the passenger door of our black Honda Odyssey she whispered, “I know you heard at school about what happened today. Please don’t tell Jenny.”

Five minutes later, I led Jen upstairs to my bedroom saying, “You’re not going to believe what happened!”

And I told her. It felt exciting, like I was sharing a secret.

Suspicious of my intentions in so eagerly inviting Jen into my room, my mom opened the door as I was relaying the news.

“I told you not to tell her!” Mom yelled as Jen bolted down the stairs to watch TV.

I joined her soon after at the family room table with my after-school snack of cut up veggies dipped in ranch dressing. The TV had already been on when Jen walked in. A Comcast guy was fixing the cable. As I sat down, I saw him flip through the channels out of the corner of my eye. Jen was staring straight ahead, silent. Jen was rarely silent. Why is she watching this guy change channels? When I looked up from my veggies, my body went stiff.

I saw the towers burning. I saw the thick clouds of black smoke and the glowing orange fire and the police officers and the firefighters with tanks on their backs and the EMS crews wheeling the injured from the buildings. I saw what would become 1.5 million tons of steel and debris floating unhurriedly down from the sky. It all looked like pieces of ripped up paper. Maybe some of it was paper. I watched the dark specs that were people jumping out of windows from the highest floors and noticed how much quicker they fell compared to the papery debris.

I heard the rapid-fire voices of reporters and police officers and firefighters and survivors talking about soot in their eyes and noses and mouths. Even though it scared me to look, I couldn’t turn away from the bodies on the ground and the groups of people running, screaming, crying, being escorted out, dragged out, covered in grey and white ash, maybe blood, some with giant clouds of smoke at their heels. The chaos was not just on ABC or CBS or CNN, whose chyron read, “AMERICA UNDER ATTACK.” It was on every channel. Now I understood because there was nothing left to imagine. This was the how. Mom marched into the family room and sent us back upstairs.

Later, as I got dressed for my first jazz dance class of the year, she sat with me. I asked if I had to go to dance class. She said yes. I didn’t want to go. I felt too weird, like after watching the Titanic. Nothing seemed real amidst the weight of tragedy, as though I was living in a disaster movie. I asked her if she was afraid. She said she was. I asked her if we were going to have World War III. I asked her if we had to start conserving our metals for weaponry, like my Grandma did as a child during World War II.

“I don’t know. I just don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows.”

The next thing I remember is asking why.

“The people who did this want us to be afraid,” she said after a discomforting silence. “We can’t give into that fear. We have to keep on living. Or else they control us and they win. We can’t let them win. We can’t live in fear.”

That was the reason I had to go to dance class, so I did. But after that I refused to go back.

***

My family seldom talked news or politics at the dinner table, a practice both of my parents learned from their parents. I knew we went to war in the Middle East, for example, but I didn’t know where or how or why until my senior year of high school, when I decided to start teaching myself about recent history and politics. But their decision not to discuss 9/11, I know, was a conscious one. This was an opportunity to protect what remained of our innocence. I’m still not sure whether knowing the details would have made me more or less afraid.

I don’t remember speaking at all with my dad about the attacks. My mom says he would watch the footage over and over on TV. “He had kind of a sick interest in it,” but he never let on.

In a way, so did I. I was already an anxious kid. I worried a lot, especially about academics and my appearance. But after that Tuesday, safety became my biggest obsession. Worrying about schoolwork or clothes or which sister got to sit in the comfy seat while watching TV no longer seemed important.

***

A few days after the attacks, I saw on the news a story about a New York City police officer who was on his way out of his precinct after filing his retirement papers. Officer John Perry. He was planning on becoming a medical malpractice lawyer but ran to the scene when he heard about the first tower.

I ruminated over this story for years—over how close this man came to making it through the physical danger he faced daily in his career; how close he was to enjoying retirement after years of hard work (at the time, I didn’t know he was moving on to a career in law). And he just died. The same day he retired. I understood his impulse to run to the scene to help, but I was—and remain—baffled by how cruel fate could be.

Officer Perry’s story gave me an idea for a kind of preventative game. At least once a day I asked myself, if our house went up in flames, who would I try to save first? I didn’t just wonder; I put myself in the middle of the scene, imagining every detail. I would save Liz, the youngest and most helpless. I would run to wherever she was, tell her to grab onto my neck like a monkey and not let go, and we would jump out of the second-floor window together.

But how could I abandon Mom, Dad, and Jen left inside? How could I reach the fire department outside, without a phone? What if I had to raise Liz on my own after the rest of my family perished in the fire? What if it was winter and we had to wait outside for a long time and froze to death? Would I rather freeze to death waiting outside or burn to death inside? Burn or freeze? Burn or freeze? I chose burn every time because I hate being cold. Now I know to choose freeze. At least I would die numb.

***

Seven months after the attacks, I found myself nauseated in the third row of our minivan, about to pass Ground Zero. Dad’s own obsession led us there, while in the city for Easter weekend. Usually carsickness provoked my nausea, but today the culprit was nerves.

“Don’t worry, it’ll just be dirt and trash and rubble,” he assured us.

I tried to focus on the Mandy Moore CD in my Walkman. “Cry” was playing as we passed the site on our left.

“It’s like it was never even there,” Dad said, much quieter.

It was just rubble, but it terrified me. I knew that underneath were the obliterated bodies of those who jumped or fell from 1,100 feet above ground at 125 miles per hour; the scorched skin and exposed bone of those who burned; the bloodshot eyes of those who asphyxiated. I felt like I would get pulled into the heap if I got too close.

We lingered for a minute, until Mom said, “Stu, that’s enough.”

On the way to our midtown hotel, the Omni Berkshire Place, Dad took a long route so we could see the streets of New York City. The city was crowded compared to my hometown of Philadelphia, but less so than usual since the attacks—that’s how we could afford to stay at a hotel like the Omni Berkshire Place. People were afraid to visit. New York wasn’t safe anymore.

Looking out my window I said, “This is dirty.”

It wasn’t a judgment. The steam rising from the manholes and the scattered trash on the sidewalks reminded me of the smoke and debris I had seen on TV and at Ground Zero a few minutes before, although I wasn’t conscious of this association at the time. I didn’t, until fifteen years later, draw clear a connection between my fear and anxiety surrounding the attacks and my experience in the city that weekend.

My only other memory of New York City before this visit was a weekend my family spent in 1998, going to the Museum of Natural History, listening to a man play Don McLean’s “American Pie” by the swan boats in Central Park, and being dragged to Ellis Island to see how my great-grandmother came to America. That and the footage from September 11th.

I started to cry and hyperventilate as we pulled up to our hotel. My sister says that someone checked for explosives under our car with a metal detector before parking it in the hotel’s underground lot, but I guess I was too upset to notice. I knew that the city and the crowds were making me cry, that we shouldn’t have driven by Ground Zero, and that I was scared. But that was the extent of my analysis. I trailed my parents closely in the lobby, composing myself just long enough to reach our suite. Alone again in our unit of five, I allowed myself to be overcome by fear.

Mom suggested I go watch TV. 4:30—wasn’t 7th Heaven on right about now? I turned the TV to the WB channel, but I couldn’t watch. I couldn’t relax in my own skin. An hour later, when my parents mentioned going out for dinner, I burst into hysterics and refused. My dad was angry; my mom was concerned. I knew we were in a fancy suite at the Omni, where we would never stay again, and I was ruining it. But I couldn’t help it, I was just too scared, which is what I said over and over through tears. I had to stay put; I didn’t feel safe on the streets of New York.

Mom placed an emergency call to my psychiatrist, Dr. Reber, whom I had started seeing around November, for anxiety. Dr. Reber told my parents to give in and stay at the hotel for the night. We ordered a pizza and I lay in my parents’ bed, staring at the ceiling, while my more lighthearted younger sisters watched the Disney channel in the adjoining room. I took a shower but couldn’t wash off the fear. I remember being surprised by how fragile I was capable of feeling, and disturbed that I couldn’t be comforted by my parents’ presence.

The next day, my parents coaxed me out into the city. I don’t remember how. Perhaps a good night’s sleep had calmed me down a little. I felt disembodied as I walked to FAO Schwarz. Here I was, physically moving through the city, but my head was clouded with fear. I didn’t feel safe again until I had been home for a few days. And this feeling didn’t last long.

***

I believe that 9/11 exacerbated my anxiety. In the months following the attacks, I became afraid of the dark again. I stopped singing in the shower. I looked over my shoulder whenever I walked home from school. I wouldn’t use an elevator, convinced that I would get squished to death between the doors. Nor would I answer the phone or make a call—what if a terrorist posing as a pizza-delivery guy was on the other end? What if a terrorist was tracing my phone? By summer I was afraid of choking and stopped eating most foods except cereal and peanut butter and jelly. I considered these “safe” foods.

Depending on the day, I might have been afraid to go outside. I imagined being hit by a car or getting kidnapped or struck by lightning. I convinced myself that it was too dangerous to leave the house. My mom tried to explain that anything can happen at any time, even at home, so I shouldn’t be afraid of the outside world. She told me a story about a boy who was killed by a falling tree while playing in his backyard. Instead of taking her point—that it’s impossible to try to outsmart death—I stopped going in my backyard.

I became paralyzed even considering entering into a situation where I couldn’t control my own safety in the event of an emergency. I felt trapped and incapacitated. Every experience seemed to have a dark underbelly. Dr. Reber and I spent sessions riding the elevator together up and down, out through the doors and back in again. We made phone calls to Dakota Pizza, Delancey Street Bagels, and our local Borders bookstore.

By the end of that summer, after almost a year of weekly therapy, I began to live normally again. I slowly reintroduced the foods I had deemed unsafe. Riding the elevators and making phone calls showed me that most of the time, catastrophic things don’t happen. It’s possible but not probable, as my third-grade teacher Mrs. van Hollander used to say. That was an equation I could understand. I gradually learned to dial that possibility down to background noise. Now I had choice phrases, relaxation techniques, and safe elevator experiences to draw on when my what if voice grew too loud.

The one thing I don’t remember talking to the doctor or to anyone else about was the root of my fear. The adults in my life assumed that my New York City panic attack and these severe new anxieties were just natural developments of my nervous personality. No one asked me about 9/11. While the attacks certainly didn’t cause my anxiety, they expanded my growing list of reasons to be afraid of the world and the intensity of my fear. Now death and terror had a setting and a face—2,996 faces, to be exact—that I couldn’t have imagined before 9/11.

***

While I have never again experienced such a prolonged period of debilitating anxiety, I look over my shoulder at all times. I’m a young woman who is mostly alone and constantly on guard. I move places by myself—Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York (state, not city). This isn’t necessarily by choice; it just seems to happen that way. No one waits up to make sure I get home safely. Each night, upon locking myself into my apartment, I’m in slight disbelief that I actually did it. I actually kept myself out of harm’s way.

An exhaustive list of my phobias to date is as follows. Some I’ve gotten over, and some I never will: dying; family dying; pets dying; any animals ever dying; movies where animals die and/or face obstacles and/or look like my cats; Alzheimer’s; cancer; aging; guns; any weapons; kidnapping; sexual assault; any kind of assault; house fires; stove burners; choking; flying/airplanes; elevators; telephones; trees falling; lightening; vomiting; illness; reptiles; men; cities; high-rises; crowds; nightmares; scary movies; darkness; driving/car accidents; walking alone; banks (greater potential for robbery); extreme cold; mountaineering; germs; dogs; cruise ships; the ocean.

A few of these fears continue to infiltrate my brain, although I’m better at recognizing and subduing them before they cycle into a tornado. Last night, for example, I was driving on the highway around 11:00 pm when a familiar thought plagued me. What if my car drifts into the guardrail or into another lane while a car is passing? What if another car drifts and hits me? In a few seconds, I could kill myself by making one tiny mistake. I could do it on purpose right now. I could do it by accident. For a second, I wonder how it would feel. I have a morbid curiosity, my sister says. Like my dad. And that’s where I stop the thoughts. Now I can stop the thoughts.

Occasionally I will hear someone say, looking in my direction, “…for those of us who are old enough to remember 9/11…” The problem with this remark is that I was old enough to see and remember the attacks and the aftermath. I resent the idea that 9/11 didn’t affect me because of my age. As a child watching what truly did seem like the end of the world, fear became built into my consciousness. Being so young meant that I internalized the fear of a nation when my own identity was still forming. I understood that I was growing up in a fundamentally unsafe world when my mom banned me and my sisters from opening the mail and playing in our front yard unsupervised. Unlike the adults of 2001, my country’s fear developed with me, in me. No matter where I go, no matter the context, I don’t feel safe. In my mind, there’s always a possibility for terror of many kinds. I saw it with my own eleven-year-old eyes.

 

Samantha is a New York-based writer behind Samantha Paige Rosen Writing & Research. She contributes to The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Week, and other publications. Samantha is earning her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College’s Creative Writing, Nonfiction program, where she wrote this essay. Follow her on Twitter: @samanthaprosen

a slave to my mind

Editors’ note: The following poem details graphic imagery of bulimia, and may be upsetting.

My name is Rhea Mathews, currently residing in India. My psychology teacher once told our class that if we were faced with stress, that we should channel that chaos into writing. I remember exactly when I started penning down thoughts. My first love had just broken up with me. I didn’t know what I was feeling and how to deal with the heartbreak so I cried and I wrote and I cried some more. It was relieving, even empowering, it provided me clarity and perspective. Slowly after this I began writing poetry. My poetry is very personal to me, I haven’t shared it with anyone. The piece I submitted was about being bulimic, I had put off writing this for a long time because I didn’t know if I was ready to face the truth.

Staring into the pot of my filth that had been forcefully purged left me feeling empty and deeply flawed. Bulimia haunted me for three years of my life. It gave me a warped self-image, and every day was spent on overcoming the self-defeating of guilt, anxiety and depression associated with the disease. It took me time to realize the harm I was inflicting on my mind and body and to change the negative perceptions of what I conceived to be attractive and desirable. The social stigmatization of this mental illness dissuaded me from ever opening up about it. People suffering from disorders are often unwilling speak about their tribulations or even worse unable to accept the reality of the situation. Mental disorders transcend boundaries created by caste, creed, religion, and state, and therefore it makes it all the more crucial for society to understand the complexity and severity of mental diseases to be empathetic and provide support to those whom need it.

I submitted this piece because although it may not be an extraordinary piece of work, it is honest. It’s what people need to hear, especially those suffering from any mental illness because if even one person can feel that they are not alone in this journey, then it’s worth it. If one person can relate and understand, it can empower them. If one person’s negative preconceived notions, of what it’s like to have a mental illness, changes, then society is already a little bit better.


I wrapped away this problem,

Buried it at the back of my head,

Kept it so deeply hidden,

So not a tear would be shed.

But it didn’t disappear,

It didn’t go away,

It continued to haunt to me,

Each and every single day.

A lingering shadow,

A demon in my mind,

A toothbrush in my toilet,

That I wished not to find.

It didn’t have a face,

I did not speak its name,

That would make it real,

Did that make me insane?

To deny, suppress and ignore,

For three exhausting years,

All the misery, guilt, and pain,

Bundled with all my fears.

Low self-esteem.

Low self-worth.

Lack of self-respect.

Dirt. Dirt. Dirt.

Illusory standards of beauty,

Is what I decided to chase,

Because I didn’t accept,

My body, my mind or my face.

It began with two fingers,

Dug deep down my throat,

Faced the mirror after,

I looked repulsively bloat.

I had successfully purged,

Everything I had eaten,

Teary eyes, runny nose,

I had just been beaten.

By a version of me,

That I truly despised,

Being your own enemy,

Something I can’t describe.

I tried to just,

Reduce my appetite,

But the pangs of hunger,

Were what I couldn’t fight.

The body needed,

More than I was giving it,

So then I ate excessively,

And felt absolutely shit.

I was overwhelmed,

By these negative thoughts,

My only relief was purging,

Believe it or not.

It gave me a feeling,

Of self-satisfaction,

A sense of control

Fueled by this action.

I lost twelve kgs,

In less than a year,

It made me quite happy,

That’s what I feared.

I didn’t care about,

The damage I was inflicting,

I told myself I want this,

On days, even insisting.

It was an unnatural,

Obsession with food,

Unhealthy and damaging,

That dictated my mood.

Every plate served,

Every bite I had to swallow,

Ultimately left me broken,

Weak, empty and hollow.

I experienced days staring,

Into the pot of my filth,

Tears streaming down,

And intense feelings of guilt.

Why am I doing this to my body?

Will people love more?

Will I be happy if I lose weight?

What am I doing this for?

Day after day,

It got easier to do,

A mild irritation now,

And only a tear or two.

Food was constantly,

Dispelled from my body,

I got used to this habit,

And I loved it, oddly.

To eat all you want,

Not put on a single calorie,

The best of both worlds,

This was my mentality.

I treated it casually,

It became a way of life,

A self-defeating cycle,

Of sadness and strife.

Eating in secret,

Over-exercising,

Hiding it from everyone,

And constantly lying.

It gave me happiness,

That was temporary,

After a while,

Relief came rarely.

My teeth become yellow,

I became disgustingly thin,

I stopped loving myself,

For what was within.

Misguided thoughts,

Is what I was left with,

Beauty by being slim,

It was all just a myth.

I was envious of all types of women,

Those who were slimmer,

Those who didn’t give a fuck,

And were much plumper.

They had this aura,

No one could bring them down,

No amount of body-shaming,

Would ever make them frown.

They loved their bodies.

They loved their extra skin,

They loved their curves,

They loved everything within.

I have to teach my children better,

Not pass on this false perception,

Of beauty and attaining love,

It’s all a horrid misconception.

Don’t be fooled by the models in the magazines,

The advertisements and the billboards,

That objectify people and their bodies.

The posts that highlight your insecurity,

The instagram pictures that distort reality,

And provide a negative notion of,

What’s considered desirable and attractive.

The articles on losing weight,

The diets to follow,

And your calorie intake,

Throw it all away.

Throw it all away.

It’s not important,

Society does not have to determine,

How you look or behave.

I’ve begun my journey to alter,

My warped self-image,

Learning to love myself,

For me, that’s a privilege.

It took me two years,

To finally accept and admit,

That I was bulimic because of,

The social stigma associated to it.

Don’t trivialize your suffering,

Don’t be afraid to speak about the tribulations.

If you have a mental illness,

Seek support and help to change your situation.

I urge both men and women,

To speak up and fight,

For those who suffer,

Do what is right.

so, what if monster was human?

BY TUBA S.

Tuba S piece

If my panic disorder were a person, he would never leave my side. He would be the pathetic reason as to why I would run from corridor to corridor and like a shadow, he would retrace each supposedly cautious step of mine. He would come after me till I would fall weak to his desires. Vulnerability was my best look, he’d say,  before taking over my chaotic mind.

If my panic disorder were a person, he would laugh at my attempts to understand him. Ruthlessly, he would kick me in the stomach till I’d become short of breath. Gripping me by my bony shoulders, he’d shake me to the point of dizziness and when at last I were to succumb to his purpose he would scream in my face, “Stop trying to understand a monster!” Although, I would never stop, because understanding him had evolved from an action into a compulsion.

Continue reading so, what if monster was human?

i thought it was over

BY ANONYMOUS

it's not over

I thought it was over.

I had escaped high school, and I was going to leave my depression and anxiety behind me. By the summer after graduation, I was already feeling so much better. The next year of college had its fair share of stressors, but I was able to handle them all in a relatively normal way. Every time I dealt with a situation, I looked back on how I would have handled it four years ago, and I was so, so proud of my progress.

Then it happened again.

Continue reading i thought it was over

the things i’ve never said

BY MALLORY GOTHELF

So where does my journey begin? Where does anyone’s journey really begin? Does it begin the day we are born? Are we somehow born with an innate understanding, that in the very moment we grace the world with our presence, we have suddenly entered a place full of trial and tribulations? Is that why a baby screams and cries? Or maybe our journey begins when we start interacting with the world around us. We then learn that some people don’t have our best interests at heart and monsters are just the demons in our minds, rather than under our beds. That is all just speculation though. I’m much more interested in the journey itself than the starting place.

Continue reading the things i’ve never said

police militarization, Charles Kinsey, and mental health

BY REBECCA HEILWEIL AND CLARE CONNAUGHTON

The militarization of the police, mental health and systemic racism all affect each other.

This month, after a long-string of police shootings, the intersection of these issues became clear in the shooting of Charles Kinsey, an African-American mental health and behavioral therapist and resident of Florida.

On July 18, a 23 year-old man with autism left MACTown Panther Group Homes, short for the Miami Achievement Center for the Developmentally Disabled. The letter from the President available on their website states that the center’s mission “is to create hope and opportunity for People with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities. We believe that all people, at all ages, and all levels of ability, have the potential to learn and grow. We also believe that all individuals are entitled to the same dignity and respect that each of us expects in our lives.” It also specifies that “The people we serve do not fail-but we fail them due to our human and systemic weaknesses.”

The police department stated they were responding to a man threatening to commit suicide with a gun.

Despite lying on the ground with hands up, and specifying that he was a behavioral therapist and that his patient had a toy truck, not a gun, he was still shot by SWAT team member Jonathan Aledda. Aledda allegedly fired three times, and one of the bullets hit Kinsey in his leg. Kinsey is also shown on videos asking his patient to lay down on his stomach.

After the shooting, the head of the local police union, John River, said that the officer was aiming for Kinsey’s patient. He added that Kinsey “did everything right.”

Though severely injured, Kinsey is expected to make a full recovery. The family of the man with autism has said that he is still suffering trauma from the incident.

This cannot be the way we deal with mental health, mental illness and development disabilities in this country. Mental illness and development disorders have historically been addressed through institutionalization, penalization, and other forms of social control. This incident reminds us that we are far from treating mental illness and development disorders as they should be treated. While these are separate and distinct categories, the stigma towards them creates a world where violence, apathy, and militarized police constitute our first response, rather than compassion. 

Too often, police responding to calls for mental illness intervention are neither qualified nor trained to deal with them. Too often, we rely on the criminalization of mental illness in order to treat it.

Worst of all, the effects of these programs fall disproportionately on the poor and racial minorities. Charles Kinsey’s shooting exemplifies that the criminalization of being African-American in this country and the stigma of mental illness and developmental disorders both reinforce violence from those who are supposed to protect us.

For further resources regarding the issue of policing and mental illness, Harold Pollock’s  “Better Police Training” provides a good introduction. Many police departments have fantastically implemented better training to deal with mental illness and policing. As Pollock highlights, “A disturbing number of violent policing incidents involve individuals living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Baltimore’s Freddie Gray, for example, appears to have been cognitively harmed by lead paint exposure, and Chicago’s Laquan McDonald experienced a complicated mix of mental health challenges and learning disabilities.”

Paul S. Appelbaum’s piece, “Mental Health Courts” also provides important background for potential solution to the increasing imprisonment of those with mental illness, often a result of true mental health care falling too financially out of reach for many Americans.

To support efforts fighting police brutality, consider donating to Campaign Zero, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, Mothers Against Police Brutality, and countless other regional and national efforts.

For those who are able and comfortable, attending rallies and protests  is another way to spark action. Starting conversations in your local communities or the spaces you frequent, even among your friends and families, is another way to promote change. Also consider contacting your local representatives and express your support for fighting police brutality and mental health awareness. Find your local representative in Congress here.

 

depression in metaphors

BY PAUL BARACH

paul piece

At age 11, gravity suddenly became extra strong, pressing my back against the carpet of my parent’s bedroom. The ceiling was my field of vision. Off-white with bucket lights that needed dusting. Ceilings would become a familiar sight. I didn’t want to leave the house, or the room, or the floor.

I didn’t want anything. It would all feel the same.

My older brother came into the room. “C’mon Paul. Let’s go play in the yard.”

It was a sunny day in the Pacific Northwest. The kind of day you have to make the most of before the Sun announces its retirement in October yet again.

“I can’t.” I replied.

“Why not?”

I didn’t have words for it then. Continue reading depression in metaphors

beauty, bliss and breakdowns

BY MADELYN HESLET

Madelyn piece

I was so ready to have my baby and not be pregnant anymore. My first and only pregnancy was awful; I had morning sickness all throughout the nine months I carried my daughter and experienced incredibly unpleasant back and hip pain. When my water broke, I was relieved and ready to have my baby.

Her birth was beautiful.

After seven hours of labor, my baby girl was born healthy and perfect into this world. She didn’t cry, she just looked at me and stared until the nurses took her away to clean her up. She came back to me sleepy and peaceful, swaddled in the pink polka dot blanket I brought from home. Our two days in the hospital were beautiful, and I just knew that it would continue when I took her home.

The first two weeks I spent with my daughter were perfect and blissful. We had a routine of feeding, changing, cuddling, and sleeping that worked well for me as a single mother. The moments I spent with her in the rocking chair were sweet and silent except for my low singing voice. When she would sleep, I would either watch her or put together her baby book, building her a keepsake of my unconditional love. I was told to sleep when she slept, but I was too excited to be a mother. I wanted to soak up the smell of baby powder and count her tiny fingers and toes as she slept. I wish I would have realized how badly I would need the sleep that I was missing out on.

Continue reading beauty, bliss and breakdowns

i cannot repair

BY CAMERON MTICHELL

I cannot Repair.png

Life doesn’t always go how you expect it. Situations rarely turn out as planned. It’s the nature of things. I didn’t expect to be there that day. I didn’t expect to be anywhere.

The room was near the main entrance, one in a row of identical small rooms. It was somewhat cramped, but not the most unwelcome place I’d ever been. A small window gave a view of the hall. Nurses, doctors, and candy stripers rushed about, doing whatever it is hospital staff do during the day. There was a cork board on the wall opposite me, adorned with posters declaring the dangers of various bacterial diseases. There was one comparing the symptoms of the flu with the common cold, though I only remember it because Doctor Wilson had the same poster in her office.

I don’t remember the names of the two women sitting before me. They identified themselves as registered nurses, as if there was such a thing as an unregistered nurse. I skimmed through the pamphlets they’d given me. PORT MOBILE, an acronym for something. It sounded like a team of action heroes in some kids’ cartoon.

One of the nurses, the leader of the pair, spoke.

“We just have to ask you a few questions, to assess where you’re at.” She was pretty, I thought abstractly. With dark hair. Odd, the things you notice about the woman evaluating your mental state.

I don’t remember exactly what questions they began with, but I imagine they were the usual sort: what exactly was I feeling, what made me come in today, was I planning on harming myself. They asked me if I had a suicide plan in place.

I said yes.

Continue reading i cannot repair