The Importance of Sharing

pexels-photo

As a lazy college student, I don’t get out too much. I don’t go to extracurricular events,  join clubs, rarely go out with friends…to be honest it’s stretching the limits just going to class. Knowing this, I hope the reader will be impressed that I actually got out and did something. Something that I found very frightening, but that instantly made me feel better after I did it. I told my story.

I have told you all my story before, but, in real life, never have I told anyone outside my family, close friends, and mental health professionals what happened to me over a year ago now. What tortured me for nearly 6 months until I finally got into the right psychiatrist and on the right medication. Last week I got a message about a group on campus called Active Minds, which was having an event in which people who struggled with mental illness talked about their struggles. I knew I had to go.

I can’t quite explain why I needed to go so badly. Perhaps I wanted to see that I wasn’t alone, as I had never met someone that openly had a mental illness before. Perhaps I wanted to inspire other people on the edge to make that push to get help. I’m not sure exactly why I had to go, but next thing I know I was emailing the secretary of Active Minds asking if I could come speak.

The moment I emailed her I instantly became filled with fear. What if they didn’t believe me? What if they didn’t think my story was that big of a deal? What if they laughed at me? What if they thought I was crazy? Still, I knew I at least had to try, besides, I never had cared what people thought of me.

The terror built right up until I walked into the door to the meeting. After meeting the people I was going to be speaking to my fear vanished. I knew instantly that these were good, kind people who would never judge me or think ill of me for telling my story. I knew I had made the right decision.

After a brief icebreaker, we all began telling our stories. It was truly humbling hearing  everyone’s struggles, and as soon as I heard them I knew I was not alone. No one had quite the issues I had, but some symptoms were definitely familiar to me.  Most importantly, I felt safe and supported.

Finally, the turn came for me to speak. I told them everything. About staying in my room for three days straight, about the voices, about wanting to kill myself, about almost getting hospitalized. I told them about the feelings of depersonalization I experienced, and my intense inability to focus that crippled my mind, and how I was originally misdiagnosed, causing me to suffer for even longer. I also told them about the good things, about my great therapist and psychiatrist, about how the voices and other symptoms are gone now, and how I came out of the entire ordeal stronger than ever.

It was a relief to get my story out there, and more of a relief to know I was not alone. I think it’s important for everyone, whether it be struggles with mental illness or just with everyday life, know that they are not alone. We all struggle, and with 7 billion people on this earth, you know someone else is struggling with the exact same thing. If you are struggling, please reach out for help, and know you are not alone. If you have overcome your struggles, please reach out to others who may be struggling with the exact same thing. Let them know they are not alone, let them know you are there for them.

 

What Makes Me, Me?

This week on Exploring Mindfulness, we are privileged to share this guest post titled ” What Makes Me, Me?” by Max.

Max is a consultant for Point Above, a mindfulness and leadership consultant agency that aims at helping people and businesses with development into a more focused and productive entity. Through various courses and seminars, any person or company can be a more mindful leader. For more information, please check out www.pointabove.com!


 

What Makes Me, Me?

“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” – Dr. Seuss

Is it my nature, or is it my nurture?

Is it when I am the happiest, or is it when I am most sad? When and where does true learning take place? What makes me, me?

From my experience, being in close relationships with different people helps teach you about yourself. Spending a lot of time with someone can help you figure out for yourself what you are alright, great, and amazing at. They may even flat out tell you how and what they accept of you. I am talking about both sexual and platonic relationships. Friends, families, lovers, all of them can help you on your quest to be the best you.

Before I get into the meat of what makes you you, I must say this. I have no answers.

There is no quick fix to figuring out who you are. It is a lifelong journey; just try not to judge yourself along the way, because if you want, you can grow.

Who you are, is how you change, and more importantly, why you change. If you want to change for someone else, or to please other people, your “why” is not aligned properly with what you actually want in the end. You must want to change, for the sake of growing more knowledgeable about yourself. As Dr. Seuss said, it is not about what it is, it is about what it can become. What it can become is the part I am expanding on.

So how do we know what we can become?

Through knowing our strengths? Our weaknesses? Our fears? It is all of these, but the one that stands out most in my eyes is our vulnerabilities. How we change, is opening up our vulnerabilities to people, and hopefully, if they accept them, growing with them.

What makes you, you, is not only your vulnerabilities, but how you communicate them. Being open enough to say, “I am scared,” “I need help with something,” or even saying, “I’m sorry” is a way of saying that you have vulnerabilities and that you are open to share and change. This also means that you have trust in that person. How you deal with those vulnerabilities when they involve interacting with other people involves a lot of trust.

One’s level of vulnerability and transparency are key elements in who a person is.

If you are truthful with yourself about your vulnerabilities, and transparent to other people about them, people will find trust in you. This trust, will allow them to open up their vulnerabilities to you. When someone opens up their vulnerabilities to you, they are asking for help in return. Help to overcome what is holding them back from being fully open with themselves and with others.

My vulnerability, or at least my willingness to open up my vulnerability to people can backfire. Sometimes, I open it up to people who are actually unable to help me grow, unappreciative of the situation, or unreciprocated in being open. These times can be hurtful; for we lose trust in people we once thought were there for us. At the same time, it proves who is actually there for us, the ones that care and are willing to spend time helping you understand yourself more.

One cannot be too phased by rejection of acceptance. You must accept this and move forward with life. Although these are methods of dealing with others who don’t accept, there are no answers here that can be applied universally. Figuring oneself out is a natural process of humanity.

We must learn from our fears and vulnerabilities, and allow other people in, for the sake of growing.


 

 

Just a quick update

Hello readers of Exploring Mindfulness. I would like to quickly update you all. Life has been fairly hectic for myself lately, so I’ve been unable to find the time to write a quality post. I imagine things will slow down within the upcoming weeks, so you can expect content to be posted on it’s regular schedule!

There will be a new post coming up next week from a guest poster! Check back in on Tuesday!

Distractions

Anhinga

About a year ago now my illness first reared it’s ugly head. For a long time I was focused solely on my illness, and all it brought me for that long time was misery and strife. Eventually, I knew that I had to find an escape, a distraction. Without one, I would consume myself with worry and fear over my illness and what was to become of it…and me. Bird photography was my distraction.

Birds are beautiful creatures, able to escape this lonely world we live in and take to the sky. They are free and majestic, not tied to a place or person. But they are fragile too. In migratory birds, a few ounces of extra stored fat can mean the difference between life and death over the long journey. In other birds, a small mishap or crash can break fragile wing bones, and cripple the bird, taking away that beautiful form of transportation known as flight, a word which does not do the actual thing justice.

When I started taking pictures of birds, it was difficult, as many new hobbies are, to get a hold of exactly what I should be doing. My pictures were blurry, I was too impatient to approach the birds slowly, my hand shook (which was partly why my pictures were blurry). Slowly though, my photos improved, and the photo you see above, an anhinga, is one of my favorite shots.

Finding a hobby, or, more specifically, finding the right hobby, is difficult. But doing so offers much needed relief and fun, especially for those of us with a mental illness. Bird photography is my outlet, my way of releasing all the tension I have built up, of relaxing and enjoying myself. Everyone needs something that does that for them. Below, I have outlined a few tips for finding the right hobby for you.

  1. Think of where you are your calmest, or where  you have the most fun (e.g. the outdoors, in the garage, in the garden). Hobbies related to that place will probably appeal most to you.
  2. What job would you most like to have? Many of us have our dream jobs that just don’t live up to reality. Want to be an author? Write a book!
  3. What books or television programs do you enjoy? Like stuff about cooking or traveling? Then that’s what’s for you.
  4. If you could only bring one thing to amuse yourself on a deserted island (not a phone or video games) what would you bring? 
  5. Go to the store. Go to a sports, crafts, or music store and look around. See if anything pops out.
  6. Revisit old hobbies. Maybe have an old hobby you forgot about? Nows the time to pick it back up!
  7. Start out small. There’s no use investing tons of money into a hobby you don’t even know you’ll like. Start cheap and work up from there.
  8. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t great at it right away. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you won’t learn piano in a day either. Give yourself time and don’t let yourself get down, remember, it’s supposed to be fun!

Following the Flow

Go with the flow – a phrase we hear often throughout life. More often than not we simply disregard the phrase, regarding it as some “hippie” type saying, but what does it actually mean? How does one “go with the flow?

As we know, in life we are constantly faced with different situations, facing different external stimuli that influence us in various ways. It’s hard to actually figure out what the best course of action is for every situation. If we don’t know what the outcome will be in a given situation, we may simply end up retracting and avoiding the situation. These are the types of situations which now remind me of the phrase “go with the flow”.

When I was younger, I would often become anxious at the thought of a situation with an unpredictable outcome – going to a party, hanging out with new people, going to a location that I hadn’t been before, pretty much anything. I tried to have a calculated decision for every possible situation. I was still figuring out who I was and what I stood for at this time, so I figured if I could predict the outcome of a situation, I would at least have some insight as to how various external stimuli would influence me. If I couldn’t predict an outcome however, I would retract and end up missing potentially exciting opportunities. I lived a lot of my younger life like that until I actually started analyzing and understanding myself.

The key for me came down to knowing what I want in life. I analyzed and analyzed until I found my answers, which were helping people and being happy. Everything started to fall in place after that. I feel as though I started to go with the flow. I suddenly didn’t retract to my usual recluse state. I knew what I wanted in life, all of those situations where I’d have to calculate the outcomes suddenly became a thing of the past. It didn’t matter what situation was thrown in front of me, so long as I knew what I wanted in life, I was able to go with the flow, as they say.

I’ve since taken this philosophy about “going with the flow” a step further, specifically after studying Daoism. I’ve started to adopt this analogy: Our lives are much like rivers, and we are traversing the waters. Our rivers may shoot off into other rivers, streams, etc., but given time, we will end up back into our own river, or, perhaps your river will eventually merge with another river. We don’t know what will happen in our lives and when we worry about the future, we lose the ability the live in the present. I encourage you all to understand yourself. Understand what you stand for, what you want in life, and go with the flow. Don’t sail upstream and make life more difficult than it has to be. Let the river’s flow take you to explore new and exciting opportunities.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Future

As I’ve written about before, about a year ago now I was told that I had prodromal schizophrenia, the early stage of the disease. This diagnosis means that I have about a coin-flips chance of developing the full disorder later in life. Fortunately I am now completely recovered, and rarely experience any psychotic symptoms. Still, long after I had mentally healed, I still held fear deep within me. I was deathly afraid of schizophrenia.

The fear I experienced was a fear that I am sure almost anyone in my place would feel, knowing as much about the disease as I did. I had taken both abnormal and regular psychology, and my teacher, who formerly worked with people with schizophrenia, made well sure we knew exactly how horrible the disease can be. As I started to develop some (very) early symptoms that I believed could be related to schizophrenia, I did even more research, and what I found terrified me. One third of those with schizophrenia are seriously impaired by the disease, another one third are moderately impaired. I did not like those odds.

To the outside eye, and indeed to the inside eye as well, schizophrenia can be terrifying. It’s a disease that can take your ability to reason, your ability to think, even your ability to distinguish reality from the creations of the mind. This fear gripped me from those earliest symptoms up until my first psychotic episode, and beyond. It took me too long to realize that a life lived in fear is not a life worth living. I could not go on fearing this illness. Something had to give.

It was a long recovery. Coming to terms with the fact that you might develop a disease that scares you to death surely does take a while, but I did it. I did it, primarily, by realizing that there was nothing I could do about it besides retrieving the treatment I was already getting. There was just, literally, nothing that could change what was (or was not) going to happen. It was a hard thing to accept, and in some ways it still is. If you’re like me you’re used to being in control of your destiny, making your own opportunities, realizing that in some ways you can’t…it’s hard.

In some ways though, it doesn’t matter. In some ways, it’s better that we can’t control everything that happens in our lives. Life is an adventure, and adventures can’t be adventures unless there’s a struggle to overcome. What a boring story life would be if we could just coast through it, not facing any adversity at all. I might develop schizophrenia…so what? It’s all part of the plot of my life, that is all. It’s my adventure and I’m going to adventure the hell out of it.

Get Mad

Last weekend, I got to go to one of my favorite places, Universal Studios, with one of my favorite people, my dear friend Thomas. We had a great time, we rode all of our favorite rides, ate turkey legs, and drank butterbeer. Well, it was great except for one part.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s Halloween season down here in Orlando, and Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is in full swing. Halloween Horror Nights is essentially a nightly event where the entire park is shut down, and zombies, serial killers, and other frightening characters take the street. Not for the faint of hearted.

We were at the park before Horror Nights started, as I’m not much for scary stuff, and we’d just gotten off our favorite rollercoaster, The Mummy (I can recite all the lines to the ride, but I digress). After we got off we started walking towards Diagon Alley when I saw a bus “crashed” on the side of the street.

Of course, it was a decoration for Halloween Horror Nights, but being the intrinsically curious person that I am I went ahead and read the side of the bus. It read “Shadyrooms Sanitorium”.  And that’s the moment that my day took a turn for the south.

I knew I shouldn’t have let it get to me, but it did, and the rest of the day I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t believe that Universal, a company that I had come to adore over the years, would allow a prop (and I assume accompanying strait-jacket costumes) that is so offensive and stigmatizing to so many people.

Last month I wrote this article about how offensive and stigmatizing mental patient costumes really are. Let me be abundantly clear, that article wasn’t just about stopping those costumes because they were offensive, and this article isn’t just about a bus being offensive, it’s more than that. This is about saving lives, and this is about improving the lives of those living with mental illness.

Strait-jacket costumes and buses to mental hospitals being used as Halloween props perpetuates the idea that those with mental illness are violent, “crazy” individuals. That is stigma. The worse stigma gets, the less people who need help want to get it. Think, if you knew you would be viewed as violent and untrustworthy for having a mental illness, would you seek help?

And then there’s the people who have already been diagnosed, but must live in shame and fear because of the label cast on them by society. Afraid to reveal their diagnosis or venture outside the realm of “normalcy”, they are relegated to hiding their illness, and any signs of it, or else be viewed as a violent monster.

The less people get help, the more people end up in crisis, the more people die from their illness. All because we want to use mental illness as part of our horror shows. So don’t let it happen, don’t let stigma be perpetuated in a world where it is already bad enough to begin with. We should be up in arms over stuff like this, things that are so wrong and offensive and stigmatizing. We shouldn’t let the people running the show get away from this. We should get mad.

UPDATE: Mental Health America has started a petition to stop the sale of the children’s “Gone Mental” costume. I encourage you all to sign it here.