Category Archives: Women

My Stigma Fighters Journey: Helen W

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. 🌹

Stigma Fighters: Allie Burke

Everything was different.

I’d been sitting in the same cubicle in the same office I had worked at for 5 years, but nothing was right. As right my life had been up to that point. I couldn’t count on twenty-six hands how many times I’d looked behind my shoulder that day; how many open bottles of water I’d thrown out from my car that week because I was convinced someone had poisoned me. I knew my train of thought was illogical, but I didn’t care. I called it being careful. Safe. I didn’t want to die. Not yet.

I was twenty-five years old, hearing things that no one heard, just for them to go away later that day, and come back early that night. The doctor told me I was schizophrenic and handed me a bag of pills. They worked when I took them, but of course working meant sleeping, and nothing else. When I was on them I couldn’t focus; I had trouble breathing; I couldn’t see. I just wanted to sleep. The fact that I hadn’t written a word on page in a book in months was of no consequence to me; I just wanted to sleep. But sleeping led to more sleeping, and it was never enough. It would never be enough.

I stopped taking the pills.

Two months later I found myself in a mental institution on a Friday afternoon, sitting across from a nurse speaking the words that didn’t even make sense to me. I just wanted to feel better. There was something wrong with me, they’d been telling me, and I wanted there to not be something wrong with me anymore.

“She can’t keep those. They have strings on them. Clothing with strings—” he glanced at me—“she can’t keep those.”

My husband was sobbing. He was a man’s man, brought up by a sailor. I had been with him ten years. I didn’t know he knew how to cry.

I snapped. I walked up to the nurse’s station and knocked on the glass and told them to give me my stuff. It was like a movie; I can’t believe they bought my imaginary stroke of genius and let me leave. But they did. I walked right out of there hours after I walked myself in.

All of this is in the book. Paper Souls.

Except, unlike Emily, I did go back. I was back in one white-walled  sanitarium or the other at least three more times.

My husband didn’t believe me. I told him I wasn’t crazy but he didn’t listen; he begged me to take my medication. The more we insist we are not crazy, the crazier we are, right? But I wasn’t. I just didn’t feel well; I thought too much and not on the right waves. I told him this. He begged me to take my medication. I told him to go screw himself, in the nicest words I could think of. I told him I didn’t love him. I told him to leave.

He left. Thank god. I’d be dead if he didn’t.

And so began the longest, hardest, most painful time of my life. Not because of divorce or loneliness or a dead-end job. I thought too much. My mind was a whirling twister of worries that would eat me from the inside out. It would destroy me if I didn’t stop.

I didn’t know how to stop. I didn’t know how to turn it off, other than to take the medication that numbed my existence. That wasn’t an option, obviously.

I’ve been raped. Beaten. Poisoned, ironically (or not). Left in an alley to die. I’d take it all again. I’d take it all again to not have to be a paranoid schizophrenic for those three years. I’d die. I wanted to die. I wished I had.

But I never took the medication again. Or saw any real doctors.

All of this is in the book. Also in the book is the time that Emily Colt killed someone. And then killed a second someone. But Emily Colt’s name isn’t Schizophrenia Girl. Emily Colt’s name is Emily Colt. She has a name just like all the murderers in the world who are murderers because they made the decision to kill someone, not because they are mentally ill.

Because schizophrenics don’t kill people. People kill people.

And that is the point, isn’t it? That that twenty-one-year-old girl dishonorably discharged from the Army shot up that mall not because the voices told her to, but because her own country refused to help her after they threw her in the dirt with nothing more than an automatic weapon and a canteen. She killed those twenty-something people because the military purposely took away her humanity, and didn’t feel the need or desire or care to give it back.

Because schizophrenics don’t kill people. People kill people.

We are not crazy because we are mentally ill; we are crazy because we are people. Because things happen to us, or because they don’t. Because we are not perfect. I said that I had been raped. Beaten. Poisoned. Left to die. This is all true. I have Paranoid Schizophrenia, but I do not choose to be alone because of it. I choose to be alone because I do not fear spending more time with myself than I do others. I am comfortable with my body, with my mind. I love myself. I have Paranoid Schizophrenia. I see things. Hear them. This is not because I have been treated badly. It’s because my great-grandmother had Paranoid Schizophrenia, and so does my uncle. Our brains work differently, and they have from the start. It has nothing to do with the way you treat us. You treat us badly because you are ignorant, not because we are bad people. It’s why I don’t trust you. If I say I trust you, I’m probably lying to make you feel better about yourself. I am a good liar. Not because I’m schizophrenic, but because my mother was a good liar. These are my choices, not my illness. I am no more dangerous than any other with an IQ as high as mine or the wits about them to use it. I am one of the most well-adjusted people on the planet. That is because, though I wanted to, I never did quit life. I still haven’t. I worked hard at fixing myself; I taught myself to get over things. That anxiety is a thing your mind makes up. I taught myself that just because I see it and you don’t, doesn’t mean it’s not there. It means that I see this thing, and you don’t. That doesn’t make me any crazier or any less normal than it does you.

I am proud of what I have accomplished and the person that I am. Every day that I get through with a smile on my face makes me happy. Empathize, but do not coddle me; do not pity me. I work as hard as you. If you judge me based upon what you think you know: that is your choice, not mine.

“Please hear this: There are not ‘schizophrenics.’ There are people with schizophrenia.” –Elyn Saks

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An American novelist, book critic, and magazine editor from Burbank, California, Allie Burke writes books she can’t find in the bookstore. Having been recognized as writing a “kickass book that defies the genre it’s in”, Allie writes with a prose that has been labeled poetic and ethereal.

Her life is a beautiful disaster, flowered with the harrowing existence of inherited eccentricity, a murderous family history, a faithful literature addiction, and the intricate darkness of true love. These are the enchanting experiences that inspire Allie’s fairytales.

From some coffee shop in Los Angeles, she is working on her next novel.
Visit Allie at http://wordsbyallieburke.com or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/allieburkebooks