Stigma Fighters Deaf – An amazing new chapter and a wonderful story
My story isn’t one with a happy ending. And that’s ok. Not everyone’s story has one.
Eleven days before I turned 20, I was diagnosed with Depression and Bipolar II. About 4 months later, I was also diagnosed with Anxiety and mild Panic. What I want to talk about here is the Bipolar diagnosis and where I am with that now.
I didn’t believe the Bipolar diagnosis and was only treated for Depression.Granted, that’s because at the time, I had never experienced the hypomania. Two years later, I finally understand what they hypomania is like. It didn’t last long, only a few days, but it was insane.
I look back at high school and I can see how the Bipolar II diagnosis make sense. The depression is almost more prominent for me, and usually is for those with Bipolar II. That’s why our highs are classified as hypomania and not just…
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Allie Burke – Board Director of out Stigma Fighters US parent and mental health warrior.
A few weeks back, I was featured on Psychology Today by the wonderful CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, Sarah Fader. She asked me to write the story about how I was being mistreated by a doctor of psychiatry in Southern California. The office had refused to see me after not having been to the office in several years, and had proceeded to deny me my medical records, which is against the law. After much negotiation, they finally agreed to provide a letter which outlined my diagnosis.
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Since pop culture treats these BPD sufferers (and no, they’re not all women) as a walking Worst Case Scenario, we thought we’d sit down with one and see what it’s like to live with it.
I’m writing this during a really bad day where my depression and pain are making me feel like I’m crawling through waist deep mud just to get anything done. I tell you this because it’s important for me to acknowledge that just because my mental health is still relatively stable, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still have bad days. But even in the depths of depression sometimes we just have to finish things that are important.
This is the first post in the new Stigma Fighters Down Under site. I’m proud of the way this page has come together, and I thought I’d share the journey from when I first shared my Stigma Fighters Story (Helen W) in October 2014 to the launch of this site on Australia Day 2015.
When I first shared my story the reaction amazed me. I had so many positive comments from people I knew and my friends were super supportive. One friend was inspired to share her story too (Dani Smith), others made ongoing efforts to educate themselves and be there for me. I was also fortunate to have people who didn’t want to share their story in public message me. In some cases they simply wanted to let me know I was not alone, in other cases it was the first stage of getting help for themselves, and yet more people just wanted to connect with someone who would understand. I have made new and lasting friendships, and found new support networks because of the act of sharing who I really am, mental illness and all.
And yet not everything was champagne and roses. I was expecting some negative feedback, but it never came. I know some of my friends think it is inappropriate to talk about mental illness publicly, but luckily they just scrolled on by. I have had one person comment that they didn’t believe in “all this BS” and that I should just “look in a mirror” and affirm to myself what a wonderful person I am. That being said the same person has been amazingly supportive of this new initiative, liking and sharing our FaceBook page and Twitter feed.
No, the problems came from another and unexpected direction. I got too involved. I began to spend more and more time online, reading blogs, commenting on Stigma Fighter stories, talking to other people with mental illness – you get the picture. In effect I withdrew from the real world into my own online one. And inevitably this led to me neglecting the 2 most important relationships in my life, my boyfriend and my housemate (my ex partner of 15 years, and now my best friend). I also began to self medicate again with alcohol and pot. Pot in particular made me paranoid and clingy, not desirable behaviors.
My boyfriend tried several times to get the message through that this behaviour was isolating him, but didn’t succeed. It took drastic measures to do that.
About a week before Christmas (which the three of us had planned to spend together) he told me bluntly that he couldn’t continue with this relationship the way it was. That he had his own emotional needs and I simply wasn’t being there for him. That he was beginning to feel like the carer in the relationship and he didn’t want that. he wanted a relationship where we both cared for each other. It is safe to say I didn’t take this at all well. I cried, I got mad and lashed out with words, I begged him to stay, I said I wanted him to leave now and give me back his key, again, you get the picture.
But when I had calmed down a bit I retracted my position. I asked him to stay the night. I said that I would look at how I was acting and work with my psychiatrist to try and change the behaviors. So we agreed to give it a chance, not right then but the next day when I was able to see the truth in his words and admit to myself that he was right. I had indeed been all take and no give. And I was able to say as much.
The conversation with my psychiatrist was NOT easy. I had to ‘fess up about everything. All my behaviors, what had been said, my substance abuse, the fight, Everything. But I found support. First of all I recognised what had been happening and we worked out ways to change this. Secondly I was given additional medications to take me through periods when boredom or stress would drive me into the arms of drink. And most of all I committed to following up how I had been going with this regularly.
Christmas was a joy, and New Year was a blast. The clarity I gained also allowed me to notice another behaviour that my boyfriend had been trying to alert me to, emotional over-reactivity. I would get worked up at the littlest irrelevant things. My boyfriend kept saying “not my monkeys not my circus” to me to bring my attention to this behaviour. So once again I took it to the psychiatrist. We figured out that something about the things I was reacting to were “triggering” me because of past events. Rather than go off like a loose canon I had to take a step back, breathe, and ask myself why I was reacting like this. Mostly I have been successful, although the past week has seen me overreact about one particular issue quite badly. But that has passed now.
In amongst all this Stigma Fighters was growing as an organisation and expanding. It became a US company with Sarah Fader and Allie Burke as board members. They are now in the process of filing an application to become a 501C (tax-exempt non-profit organisation). New chapters have also started up;
Ross Hamilton came up with the initial idea for Stigma Fighters Down Under and I was keen to become involved. We have a Twitter feed and a Facebook page that you can link to from the sidebar. We hope you will join us in this exciting new chapter of the Stigma Fighters Journey.
And me? I’m still a work in progress. I’m trying to mitigate the damaging behaviors, exercise more, be present for people. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy, it’s not. But it is worth it.
I am Helen White – Content Manager Stigma Fighters Down Under. I live with Borderline Personality Disorder and Chronic Pain, which I manage with the help of a collection of amazing specialists. I share a house with 1 1/2 men, 5 fish and 2 very spoiled Siamese. I hope to go back to studying for a Masters in Information Management this year, and I am also learning how to garden – so far the roses are growing and flowering nicely. 🌹
I started writing a piece that was chronologically setting out my story. But it was hard to write something coherent enough. Besides, this isn’t supposed to be my life history. So we’ll stick to just a few bits and pieces.
I was formally diagnosed with clinical depression in 2004. However in hindsight it probably started much earlier than that but for a long time I drank so much that it would have been hard to work out just what my mental state was at any one time. Fortunately the great love of my life told me to make a choice – her or the drink. So off to AA and sober up.Depression later really took hold. I went from being the loud, boisterous one in the office to someone so withdrawn that people sometimes did not even realise I was even there at all. Problems at work just made everything worse. I could not cope with anything any longer. The love of my life died. My physical health collapsed. And the work started up their nasty, insidious campaign that everything was my fault.
The clinical depression diagnosis in 2004 saw me on my first visit to the psychiatric ward. Then back to work where, after the brief flurry of so-called support soon disappeared, the campaign to get rid of me started for real. Medical reports, diagnoses and recommendations were basically ignored, instead wiping their hands of everything to do with them despite all documented evidence to the contrary. Life was made a living hell. Another stay in the psyche ward, return to work and the cycle continued. A very detailed psychological assessment that work insisted on and paid for, revealed a real gumbo of conditions. And an increasingly bad anxiety condition was diagnosed. But work continued on the program of ‘it’s nothing to do with us so let’s force him out.’ The report just ended up gathering dust on file somewhere, conveniently ignored like everything else.
In some ways it was almost a relief to eventually be forced out onto an invalidity pension. But even then my beloved former employer had to resort to lies, denials and suppressed information to get their way. After all, according to them it was all my fault.
Like anyone actually chooses to become a physical and mental wreck with all the cranial fortitude of a deranged jellyfish!
A combination of factors, again largely driven by the BFE to ensure they could never be found liable, saw me unable to get the detailed psychological help I had been repeatedly diagnosed as needing. A lot of the mental problems became hardwired in over time. They probably think that’s my fault as well. I lost just about everything and ended up in shared public housing, unable to go anywhere else. But at least I had a roof over my head.
The next few years saw a repeating pattern – rally, recovery, then fall back again and into semi-suicidal mode (planning how to do it rather than getting to the point of actually doing it). The two times I managed to talk someone into giving me a little part-time work failed – I simply cannot cope with it any longer or at least not in a ‘normal’ workplace. Depression and anxiety always took over again, seemingly every time I managed to take a step forward in recovering my life. While I doubt I will ever be able to prove it, I suspect the large brain aneurism above my left temple was driven by all that had gone before. I had to literally have open-brain surgery to patch things up. I think the jury is still out on whether or not the small, walnut-shaped thing inside my skull actually qualifies as a brain.
My major breakthrough came in 2011. I came across a small poster advertising a program which used comedy as therapy. Over three months I had a weekly class where we learned how to actually do stand-up comedy. And once you learn the magic formula (surreptitiously delivered by a man in a trench coat, handing over the magic formula in a brown paper bag after you recite the necessary sacred rites) then it is like having a free ticket to take the piss out of everyone and everything. Call it payback. Revenge. Whatever. All I know is that it was better than any other therapy I had done. The program finished with a full-on show where we ‘graduating students’ made our public debuts before a packed house. It was exhilarating. And I was hooked on performing.
It is so incredibly freeing to be able to make fun of it all, to have an audience laughing with you rather than at you, to say pretty much whatever you like (provided it is dressed up in the appropriate comedic set up). After that debut I kept writing and performing material. I don’t just keep trying to do gags about mental health. If something strikes me as absurd, I try to find a way to turn it around into a gag.
Along the way I became annoyed. Somewhere, sometime, the powers that be had decreed that we were no longer mentally ill, no longer had mental health issues but that we were all now ‘mental health consumers.’ What a stupid description. It made me sound like some sort of zombie, sucking the mental health out of other people’s brains. Braaains. Mental heeeeaaalth. I took back ‘ownership’ of the word ‘loony’. Hi – I’m Rossy H and I’m a loony! Because I am a loony. Just as I am an alcoholic – in recovery but still an alcoholic – I still have my mental demons. They are just under better control most of the time these days.
If all goes to plan I will be running a show in 2015, Loonies R Us! There I shall call on my followers to rise up. To throw off those chains of ignorance and bias. To take to the streets, to stand up! And death to the sane! Death to…
Oh dear. I now seem to have developed a bit of megalomania. But the shrink will probably have a pill for that. And Loonies R Us! will just be a stand-up comedy show. I promise. Maybe.
Arse end of the Milky Way
Ross is a freelance writer, stand-up comic (of sorts), invalid pensioner who is really bad at woodwork but keeps doing it anyway. And a loony.