What I Want Someone Who’s Overwhelmed with Their Mood Disorder to Know

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You have depression, or bipolar disorder. And on some days, you feel like you’re treading water—at best. You’re tired of struggling. You’re tired of regularly feeling tired. You’re angry that your to-do list just keeps getting longer and longer. You’re angry that you have to deal with so much darkness day in and day out.

Some days are just hard. Some days you feel so overwhelmed.

It is on these days that you probably feel like the only person on the planet who’s struggling with persistent symptoms.

Thankfully, you’re not. And thankfully, it will get better.

We asked individuals who live with depression or bipolar disorder to share what they’d like others who are feeling overwhelmed with these same conditions to know. Most of the individuals are speakers from This Is My Brave, a fantastic nonprofit organization that hosts live events and aims to “end the stigma surrounding mental illness through storytelling.”

Get treatment. T-Kea Blackman, a mental health advocate and speaker who lives with depression and anxiety, stressed the importance of seeing a therapist who can help you identify triggers, learn healthy coping tools, and set boundaries, along with a psychiatrist if you need to take medication. (For bipolar disorder, both medication and therapy are vital.)

Blackman emphasized not getting discouraged if the first or third medication you try doesn’t work, or the first or third therapist you see isn’t a good fit. “It can take time to find the right dosage and medication, and therapist for you.” This can be frustrating, but it’s common—and you will find the right help.

Focus on small victories. Sivaquoi Laughlin, a writer, blogger, and mental health advocate with bipolar II disorder, has good days, bad days, and sometimes great days. She underscored the importance of realizing that it’s OK not to be OK, and acknowledging small victories, which are actually “huge.”

Some days, those small victories might be getting out of bed and taking a shower, she said. Other days, they might be excelling at work and going to dinner with friends. Either way, it’s all important and worthwhile.

Forgive yourself. Fiona Thomas, a writer who has depression and anxiety, stressed the importance of not beating yourself up when you don’t do everything on your list, or when you have bad days. One of her friends always says: “Remember that your best changes when you’re not feeling well.”

Thomas, author of the book Depression in a Digital Age: The Highs and Lows of Perfectionism, suggested not comparing today’s output to your output from last year or last week. “It all depends on how you’re feeling mentally, and if you’re not 100 percent, then just do what you can—the rest will come later.”

Thomas also suggested doing one small thing every day that makes you feel better. This might be anything from drinking a few glasses of water to walking around the block to talking to a friend, she said. “There are so many ways to boost your mood little by little, and over time, they become habits and make you feel better without even really having to try.”

Do one enjoyable thing every day. Similarly, Laughlin encouraged readers to find one thing that brings you happiness, and try to incorporate that into your daily routine.

For Laughlin, it’s many “one things.” That is, she loves being with her grandson and her dogs, meditating, hiking, reading, and writing. “Start small and build upon it. Forgive yourself if you miss a day or days.”

Remember you are not broken. Suzanne Garverich is a public health advocate who is passionate about fighting mental health stigma through her work on suicide prevention as well as telling her story of living with bipolar II disorder. She wants readers to know that you “are not damaged, but [instead] so courageous and strong to live through and fight through this illness.”

Document your OK days. This way, “when you are having an off day or month or series of months, you can go back and remind yourself that you have felt differently,” said Leah Beth Carrier, a mental health advocate working on her master’s in public health, who has depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and PTSD. “You are capable of experiencing emotions other than the numb, black hole you reside in at the moment. There is hope.”

Surround yourself with support. “Surround yourself with people who can support you and find an online community who can relate to you, such as the Buddy Project or my community, Fireflies Unite,” Blackman said. She also noted that the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers free support groups.

Other online supports include: Psych Central’s forums, and Project Hope & Beyond and Group Beyond Blue–both of which were started by one of our associate editors, Therese Borchard.

Teresa Boardman, who has treatment-resistant bipolar disorder, attends weekly therapy sessions, but sometimes, she said, she needs more. “It’s OK to talk frankly with someone. I like to use the crisis text line because I do not have to break my cone of silence. Expressing yourself truly makes you feel less alone.”

Living with a mental illness can be hard. Acknowledge this. Acknowledge your overwhelmed, exasperated, angry feelings. Remind yourself that you’re not alone. And remind yourself that you are doing an incredible job, even on the days it doesn’t feel like it.

What I Want Someone Who’s Overwhelmed with Their Mood Disorder to Know

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Living with Chronic Anorexia 

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It’s been two-thirds of my life that I have been listening to this harassment in my head. I’ve talked back, I’ve fought back, I’ve negotiated, and yet I still suffer. It’s like a permanently playing radio, sometimes louder, sometimes more quiet, but always there as the background sound of my life. It is exhausting, but not as exhausting as it is to try to turn it off and keep it off. Sadly, I’m just used to it now. It’s become so normalized that I don’t really recall what it’s like to not have it there, my chronic and badgering anorexia.

I know that it’s in my genes because I have relatives who, although never diagnosed, have struggled with eating issues as long as I can remember.

Many people know about my disease, yet many do not. I don’t know what they think about me. I am a master of making excuses for missing meals, and people don’t realize that my obsession with exercise is not something to be admired.

Since the very first signs of an eating disorder, my parents had me in therapy. I’ve devoted my life to animals, but so much time and effort has been consumed with therapy, doctors, dietitians, medication, inpatient treatment and hospitalizations. Nobody can cure me — or anybody — of this. But people can get better. Or not. Chronic anorexia (also known as Severe and Enduring Anorexia Nervosa) feels like handcuffs and, sadly, like something I will always live with.

My mind started the anorexia harassment when most people are starting puberty. It stunted my growth and stole away my adolescence, causing lifelong and terrifying damage to myself. That’s what people don’t realize — I’m not naturally this small; I have forced myself to maintain this body since I was a child. And it didn’t help that I was a pretty serious gymnast. But this body isn’t who I was meant to be. Who knows who I was meant to be.

So I go about my life, missing out on so many foods that I know I would love but aren’t worth the anguish of listening to that damn voice in my head. I’m somehow different. I can’t have them. I don’t know what it’s like to eat what I want, when I want. Anything outside of my “safe foods” makes me feel like I’m gaining weight and like I’m bad, for I have disobeyed my eating disorder. Challenging it is simply too exhausting. And I punish myself with exercise, no matter the weather, no matter the pain. It’s the only thing that quiets and calms me.

I am constantly shocked how people can be so incredibly stupid, especially when they think they are trying to help me. The comments they have made send me backwards and out of control, back into the comforting arms of anorexia. “You look healthy.” “You look great.” “You look like you put some meat on your bones.” I’m thirty pounds underweight. Who on earth would think these are helpful things to say? I don’t want to look “healthy,” and saying so to an anorexic person thinking it will make me feel better can be damaging. Healthy means fat to me, great means that clearly thirty pounds underweight isn’t enough. And yet other people make very concerned comments to my mom, as if she hasn’t been spending years trying to help me get better.

You don’t know what somebody else is going through. Be careful what you say. I’d like to be more open with people, but I fear that they will think I’m judging their diet, their weight. I’m not, I don’t. It’s only me who sees myself and hears myself the way I do. And if you are familiar with these same harassing voices, like a conscience gone awry, seek help. At least there’s more knowledge of the causes (biological, genetics) and so maybe some better treatment options than when I fell into this trap about 23 years ago.

So now all I can do is persist in life, doing the very best I can to give back to the world despite the buzzing radio static of anorexia nervosa. I have hope, but there is no cure yet.

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What It Takes to Be a Mental Health Advocate: An Interview With Christina Huff

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Christina Huff

At one point Christina Huff was living her dream: thriving as a paralegal in Chicago and newly in love. Five years and one divorce later, she’s still piecing together the debris – living with bipolar disorder and accepting a different kind of life. She has translated her passion for law to mental health advocacy, helping others rise from difficulty with gracefulness and determination, and is a beautiful model of turning pain into service.

Living with bipolar, anxiety, eating disorders, and chronic pain, she beautifully weaves bits of her life and advice from other warriors on her site, Bipolar Hot Mess, ranked number five out of the top 100 bipolar blogs on feedspot, and on her other site is Askabipolar.com. I asked Christina about her life as an advocate, advice for persons for bipolar, and where she finds the strength to overcome her many challenges.

Therese: What made you want to become a bipolar advocate?

Christina: When I was first diagnosed in 2006, I didn’t know anyone who had bipolar and I didn’t know anything about the illness. My immediate response was turning to the internet to look and search for information and first-person accounts so I knew what to expect. But, to my disappointment, I found very little. I did find a website called Ask A Bipolar and so I followed it for a few days and searched it. They put up an ad that they were looking for new authors and one of the qualifications was that you had to have bipolar. I applied, and then within a few months, I was learning so much, I was helping the site grow. The site owner and I became partners and off we went.

It sort of happened by accident that I became an advocate. Since the site was such a strict Q & A format, I wanted to be able to write more freely about my life and about bipolar and such, so I started my own website Bipolar Hot Mess. It started slow then one day just took off and now, if you google “bipolar hot mess” I fill the page. It amazes me every single day!

Therese: What is most challenging/rewarding about it?

Christina: The most challenging is that I do still have the illness that I’m an advocate for, so there are times that I crash. I still have the side effects and have to take care of myself the same way I advocate and help people to realize they need to do to take care of themselves too. The rewarding part is when I’m mentoring someone and I see how much progress they make, or when someone sends me an email saying how much a post, or an interview, or something I’ve done or said has helped them. Those are the things that make it all worthwhile. Or when someone was so down and was suicidal and the next time you speak they are doing well, have their life back on track, and have found happiness. Just knowing you helped that person find the light or find the path they needed, sometimes all they need is a nudge.

Therese: What would your advice be to people just diagnosed with bipolar?

Christina: Make sure you see your psychiatrist as frequently as they suggest and take ALL MEDICATION AS DIRECTED! That is super important. If your meds aren’t correct, everything else isn’t going to help properly.

Next, find a therapist. They are going to help you sort things out. When you are first diagnosed things are so confusing, they help a lot.

Work with your family and try to explain what is going on. This is a hard one, but if you are living with them, they are going to see the ups and downs everyday, so they should have a general idea of what to expect. If you have a spouse, I highly recommend the book Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder, by Julie Fast. It’s a very good book for your spouse to read to let the, know what to expect, how they could handle things etc. In addition to some great websites, there are now a lot of books you can purchase for more information. Facebook has a lot of “private” support groups that you could try out. NAMI.org will give you info and you can find your nearest support group or events like book readings and signings etc. DBSAlliance.org will do the same.

Therese: What keeps you going during the really hard stretches where you want to give up?

Christina:My family, friends, and boyfriend. They help me see that this is just another bump in the road and I am going to make it out again alive. They show me that they still love me and will still love me on the other side and on the other side, I’m going to be even stronger than I was when I crashed. Each time I crash, I come out stronger and more aware of my symptoms, how to combat them and fight back. Granted, not every time can be a fight back moment and sometimes we just have to let it take its course, but if we know that and are aware of that ahead of time, we can at least be prepared to settle in to acceptance that we have an illness that sometimes we can control but sometimes we just have to accept we can’t control.

Therese: Do you have things you do every day to stay well?

Christina: I need to take my medication in the morning and evening, need to maintain a regular sleep schedule, eat regularly (that is for my eating disorder recovery), try to get a decent amount of sun, and try not to isolate and make contact with friends or family daily, and try to accomplish at least one task a day so I don’t sit in bed all day which could spark a depressive cycle.

The medication part though is absolutely key though. If I miss my medication even one day, it affects not just my brain chemistry but my body and takes days or weeks to even get back to normal.

Therese: What is your biggest work challenge due to bipolar disorder?

Christina:Well, I was able to work for over four years in corporate America as my dream job as a paralegal at a prestigious Chicago law firm, but unfortunately, life got in the way and triggered my bipolar symptoms and I was put on disability. It amazes me now how many are on disability. I never really thought about it until it happened to me. I guess that’s true for a lot of us for a lot of things.

Now, I work on my website bipolarhotmess.com and sell things on eBay. It’s tough most days because of my concentration and sometimes lack of motivation, but I know that if I don’t do anything, I’m going to get into the depressive slump. It’s so much easier to get IN the slump than get OUT. If I don’t work on the website I feel like I’m letting my followers down and I have to list items on eBay because the site is funded only by me. Those are some great motivators.

To conquer the concentration issue, I try different working areas and try taking more frequent breaks. That seems to help. I also make sure to keep my projects at a reasonable size. I used to make a to do list a mile long and beat myself up for not getting it done. Now I create one that is more manageable and that I know I can complete so I feel better at the end of the day, not defeated. That tip took a very long time to master!!! I’m an overachiever so it was so difficult, but if I could do it, so can you!

What It Takes to Be a Mental Health Advocate: An Interview With Christina Huff

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On Stage on the Spectrum

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About three years ago, I got an email publicizing a drama school called the Center for Applied Drama and Autism, C.A.D.A. I was instantly interested. A year before, my 10-year-old son Tommy had been diagnosed with autism. I had always wanted him to get into acting because I’d acted as a child, having been in shows such as Gypsy and Fiddler on the Roof at local dinner theaters. Tommy seemed as though he would be a natural because he had the ability to memorize scripts (he was an avid scripter; people who are autistic often are), and he was very funny.

The school was in downtown Akron, about fifteen minutes away from our home. I signed him up. Soon, one Saturday a few weeks later, we entered an old building on Main Street and searched for the acting studio. Down a staircase we went and soon we found ourselves in C.A.D.A.

Tommy was going to take improv. Improvisation classes, we would learn, are good for autistic people because they help them to be better communicators (learning to think on their feet) and ultimately find their own voices. These classes were also fun.

We’d done traditional social groups at centers for people on the spectrum, but these had turned out to be unsuccessful because they lacked vital context and purpose. Acting encouraged the participants to be social, but also to be creative, making up narratives and scenarios.

The first day at improv, Tommy and his classmates warmed up doing an exercise called “Zip, Zap, Zop,” in which they passed energy to each other. Then, they did an exercise called “Mirrors,” in which they mimicked each other as if they were looking in a mirror. Then came a game called “Bus Stop,” where they pretended to be waiting for a bus in a character of their choosing. Soon, they would be acting out fairy tales and even learning Shakespeare.

Tommy took to it. There was only one problem. Well, really two problems. The first was that there was a very loud service bell that people rang so that they could get in the building which was often locked. This service bell unnerved Tommy. He had sensory issues, so the bell was a hindrance in his play. The second problem was that I got cancer, and Tommy fell apart. While I was getting treatment, we had to stop going to drama for a time. But I survived cancer, and then, something else wonderful happened. C.A.D.A. moved! No more service bell. C.A.D.A. relocated to what is known as their blue box theater in Akron, where they currently reside.

Now in 2019 at the blue box theater, Tommy takes improv from Ruben Ryan and Brandon Meeker. He goes every Saturday. And he’s getting good. He can sustain a scene and create original dialogue that is purposeful and entertaining. Improv helps him stay in the moment, to be in the moment, completely engaged and fascinated with people and life. This is saying something for someone on the autism spectrum, who might often be disengaged and out of touch.

So whose brainchild is C.A.D.A.? C.A.D.A. was co-created by Wendy Duke, a drama teacher for over 40 years, and Laura Valendza, an actor and intervention specialist.

C.A.D.A.’s philosophy is as follows:

Our goal is to meet our students where they are now, and without coercion, help them to recognize their own abilities and gifts through empowerment and making connections. We do not wish to change the uniqueness of each student, but rather help each one deal with social and emotional situations that will occur throughout their lives.

We do this via individual and collaborative applied drama techniques such as theatre games, improvisation, role play, character study, voice and body work, mask work (commedia dell’ arte), and Play Back Theatre. Additionally, we encourage creativity and originality through student created puppet plays, playwriting and video production. Visual art, dance and music are all key components in theatrical productions and give our students an opportunity to expand their artistic gifts and interests.

What does all this mean? For a parent of a child on the spectrum, it means that my kid can study acting at a world-class acting school right in our own little Akron, Ohio.

Recently, Tommy was asked to be a “co-star” at C.A.D.A. This means that he will work with a class of younger students as sort of a mentor/helper. Tommy’s father and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Tommy has gone from a timid pre-teen who was frightened by everything, including a loud service bell, to a full-fledged teenage actor in a leadership role.

If your child has autism, you might consider enrolling him or her in acting classes in your hometown. I’m sure acting courses can benefit your child. These classes have made all the difference in Tommy’s life.

On Stage on the Spectrum

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What It Means to Be a Mental Health Advocate—And How to Become One

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Over the years, the stigma surrounding mental illness has significantly decreased. One of the biggest reasons?

Mental health advocates.

These are the individuals who tirelessly share their stories in all sorts of ways. They remind us that we’re not alone in our struggles—and there is real, tangible hope and healing. They shatter stereotypes and myths about mental illness, helping the public see that people with mental illness are just people.

As Jennifer Marshall said, “By showing the world that we’re your neighbor, your family members, your friends, and we are not only surviving with these conditions, but thriving, we’re educating the world and changing the world for the better.”

If you’re thinking about becoming a mental health advocate, you might be wondering what advocates actually do, and how to get started. We asked advocates who are doing all kinds of incredible work to share their insights.

What It Means to Be a Mental Health Advocate

Therese Borchard defines a mental health advocate as “anyone who is a voice for those suffering from depression, anxiety, or any other disorder—who hopes to disseminate a message of hope and support.”

Similarly, Marshall said it’s “someone who learns how to take the best care of their mental health and shares openly about their story to help others.”

According to T-Kea Blackman, an advocate is “a change agent,” “someone who educates his [or] her community on mental health, reduces the stigma and fights for change in the behavioral system.”

Sally Spencer-Thomas, PsyD, thinks of advocacy as a “spectrum of engagement” from allies to activists. An ally is someone who feels connected to challenging the discrimination and prejudice related to mental illness, but might not act on their feelings. An advocate uses their voice to encourage change. An activist “engages in intentional action to move change along—getting people organized, moving legislation, changing policy.”

What Mental Health Advocacy Looks Like

There’s no one way to advocate. It really depends on what’s important and inspiring to you—and what you feel comfortable with.

Borchard mostly writes and has created two online depression support communities: Project Hope & Beyond, and Group Beyond Blue, on Facebook. She also serves on the advisory board of the National Network of Depression Centers, speaks to different groups, and helps depression organizations spread their message.

Blackman hosts a weekly podcast called Fireflies Unite With Kea, where she gives “individuals who live with mental illness the opportunity to share their stories.” She hosts mental health events and speaks at workshops and conferences. She also works as a peer recovery coach for a pilot program, helping others with their personal and professional goals.

Years ago, Marshall started a blog at BipolarMomLife.com, after being hospitalized for mania four times in 5 years. Today, she’s the founder of an international nonprofit organization called This Is My Brave. They share stories of individuals who have mental illness and live full, successful lives through poetry, essays, and original music. This Is My Brave hosts live events, and has a YouTube Channel.

Spencer-Thomas is a clinical psychologist, and one of the founders of United Suicide Survivors International, “pulling together a global community of people with lived experience, lifting up their voices and leveraging their expertise for suicide prevention and suicide grief support.” She also advocates for workplaces to become involved in mental health promotion and suicide prevention; for providers to learn evidence-based clinical practices; and for innovation in men’s mental health through campaigns such as Man Therapy.

Gabe Howard, who believes that “advocacy must start with open and honest dialogue,” primarily does public speaking, and hosts two podcasts: The Psych Central Show, and A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. He’s also testified in front of legislators, served on boards and advisory councils, and volunteered for various initiatives.

Chris Love has shared his story of recovery from substance abuse all over North Carolina. He works as a counselor at a substance abuse treatment center, and with the nonprofit organization The Emerald School of Excellence, which is North Carolina’s first recovery high school for teens struggling with substance use.

Lauren Kennedy is an advocate who speaks to all kinds of audiences, including police officers, high school and college students, and healthcare professionals. She also has a YouTube channel called “Living Well with Schizophrenia,” where she talks about mental health and her own experiences with schizoaffective disorder.

The “Why” Behind Advocacy

“Being an advocate is important to me because I believe the only way we’re going to eliminate the stigma, judgment and discrimination surrounding mental illness and addiction is by putting our names and faces on our stories,” Marshall said. “This Is My Brave does this one person and one story at a time.”

For Kennedy, being an advocate is important because “people living with mental health problems are just that, people; and deserve to be treated with the same respect and compassion as anyone else.”

Similarly, Blackman’s mission is to “show that mental illness does not have a look,” and to “show those in the African American community that it is OK to attend therapy, take medication (if needed) and pray.”

“We do not have to choose our faith over our mental health, or vice versa. Every human deserves the right to have access to mental health treatment. Therapy is not a white or rich people issue; this is a myth that must be dismantled in my community.”

Spencer-Thomas views her advocacy work as her life’s mission after her brother died by suicide. “Every day I get up to prevent what happened to Carson from happening to other people. I feel that he walks alongside me, encouraging me to be courageous and bold. My fire in the belly is fueled by the process of making meaning out of my loss. I would do anything to have him back, but he’s not coming back, so my work is part of his legacy.”

Howard noted that as someone with bipolar disorder, he’s been unfairly judged and discriminated against. He’s had difficulty accessing care—and seen others experience difficulty, as well, because of their finances, where they live, and other circumstances.

“I just couldn’t sit by and do nothing. It seemed wrong to me. I tried to ‘hide in plain sight,’ so I could avoid the negative reactions—but it felt so fake to me.”

During Borchard’s lowest points, reaching out to others relieved some of her pain. “In those times when nothing, absolutely nothing worked, becoming an advocate for those who suffer from depression and anxiety, gave me a purpose to strive for, to get out of bed. Today, I continue to feel the benefits of service. It connects the random dots of life.”

How to Become An Advocate

Becoming a mental health advocate can include big and small actions—it all matters!

  • Advocate for yourself. As Blackman said, you can’t be an advocate for others if you don’t first advocate for yourself. For instance, she recently talked to her therapist and psychiatrist about discontinuing her medication. They collaborated on a specific plan, which includes continuing to attend weekly therapy sessions and calling her doctor and returning to medication if she notices any negative changes. According to Blackman, advocating for yourself means getting educated, understanding your triggers, developing coping skills and stating your needs.
  • Share your story. Start with family and friends, which also will reveal whether you’re ready for a wider audience, Borchard said. Love said if you’re comfortable, consider sharing your story on social media. “The beginning of ending stigma is being able to put it out there and talk about it.”
  • Educate your immediate circle. “There is a tremendous amount of power in reflecting on how you think and talk about mental health, and how you can help others in your life to take a more positive and accepting stance on mental health and mental illness,” Kennedy said. For instance, you can correct misinformation, such as using person-first language (“person with schizophrenia”), instead of “schizophrenic,” she said. Blackman also noted that you can text family, friends, and colleagues articles about mental health. In fact, she started by sharing articles and videos with loved ones to help them understand what she was going through.
  • Volunteer. Many of the advocates suggested joining local mental health organizations and assisting with their programs and events.
  • Get a mentor. “Like most things, getting the right mentor is about building relationships,” Spencer-Thomas said. She suggested noticing people you’d like to be like, reading their posts, leaving comments, and asking questions. “Volunteer for events or at meetings where [this person] is present…Ask them directly about being a mentor and set realistic expectations.”
  • Get trained in legislative advocacy. Spencer-Thomas noted that one way to do that is to become a field ambassador for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
  • Find your niche. “[F]ind the thing that you are better at than most and that inspires you,” Howard said. This might be anything from public speaking to writing to fundraising to managing volunteers, he said.

Advocates who’ve been there also remind us that even though we can’t see past our pain right now that doesn’t mean this will be our future. As Blackman said, “…I am amazed at how I went from not wanting to live [and] attempting suicide [to] using my experience with mental illness to educate and reduce stigma.”

What It Means to Be a Mental Health Advocate—And How to Become One

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Podcast: Support Groups for Mental Illness – What are They?

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Most people understand how doctors and therapists work, but many people can’t quite wrap their minds around support groups – especially peer-led ones. In this episode, our hosts dissect different types of support groups to make them better understood and more accessible. Listen Now!

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“[Mental Illness] Support groups are like a buffet — take what you want and leave the rest.”
– Gabe Howard

Highlights From ‘Mental Illness Support Groups’ Episode

[1:00] Lets talk about support groups.

[3:00] Fountain House in NYC is awesome!

[6:00] Why it’s great to be around like-minded people.

[8:00] Support groups in hospitals.

[12:00] Peer-run support groups, hints and tips.

[18:00] Gabe became a support group facilitator — what does that mean?

[25:00] Sometimes people come to support groups just to listen.

[26:00] Gabe and Michelle recommend support groups to listen and share.

[28:00] Don’t like your support group? You can find another!

Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Support Groups for Mental Illness – What are They?’ Show

Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Narrator: [00:00:09] For reasons that utterly escapes Everyone involved. You’re listening to A Bipolar, A Schizophrenic and A Podcast. Here are your hosts, Gabe Howard and Michelle Hammer. Thank you for tuning into A Bipolar, A Schizophrenic and A Podcast.

Gabe: [00:00:22] I’m Gabe, I have bipolar.

Michelle: [00:00:24] Hi I’m Michelle I’m schizophrenic.

Gabe: [00:00:26] And today we’re going to try to give some helpful information and maybe demystify things like support groups peer support groups support groups read by medical staff like social workers or doctors kind of talk about our experiences we’ve heard from others and just try to tie it up at a nice little bow. For those of you who are sitting there thinking Should I go to a group support group and what’s it going to be like and huh.

Michelle: [00:00:57] You’ve been to a a lot of support groups right Gabe?

Gabe: [00:00:59] I personally love support groups. I’ve been to all forms I’ve been to the ones led by a psychologist. I’ve been to ones led by social workers. I’ve been to ones led by peer supporters. Yeah, I am a I’m a big big believer and I go to a drop-in center which is run by people with mental illness and addiction for people with mental illness and addiction to drop in. So, it’s not exactly a support group but it’s still a group setting for people with mental illness and or addiction to kind of chill.

Michelle: [00:01:34] Yeah I do that too when I go to Fountain House in New York City. It’s kind of just like a clubhouse for people with mental illness and it’s not necessarily group therapy but you’re around like-minded people and you can have really good conversations and there’s really just no judgment there.

Michelle: [00:01:49] And it’s a really nice place to be around.

Gabe: [00:01:53] You sort of feel comfortable there because it’s set up for people like you and me.

Michelle: [00:01:59] It’s more like you’re not being judged. You feel no judgment in a support group. Everybody’s likeminded. Nobody’s thinking bad things about anything you say. You just have just a normal conversation and maybe you think somebody said something weird but then you’re like you know what I’m at this support group to what may maybe something I say somebody else thinks is weird but it’s okay cause we’re all talking to each other openly.

Gabe: [00:02:25] Let’s take this in sections so the section number one we’re going to talk about consumer operated services or peer run organizations drop in centers clubhouses like Fountain House where you go in New York City the Peer Center where I go in Columbus, Ohio and there’s there’s hundreds and hundreds of these models across the United States.

Gabe: [00:02:43] So let’s do that first. You go to probably one of the most famous drop in centers in the country. You’re really super lucky to live in New York City because fountain House has all kinds of services don’t you like a rooftop garden.

Michelle: [00:03:01] There might be a rooftop garden I don’t know if I’d been there but I am in the horticulture unit where they do all the planting and all that kind of stuff and sometimes I do help with the planting but a lot of times I just go there with my computer and I do my work there because I like to be surrounded by people that I can talk to as I’m doing my work. It’s just friendly. It’s nice it’s calming. I mean I could go to a Starbucks but that’s boring. Why not go to Fountain House chit chat with a bunch of fun people while I do my work.

Gabe: [00:03:32] You know the Peer Center where I go doesn’t have a garden. I mean we don’t we don’t have a garden and to call it a horticultural unit. That that that seriously really bad ass. But let’s talk about that for a moment because you know some people hearing this, they’re like wait a minute what does a garden have to do with mental health. And I’ll tell you this is probably my favorite thing to explain to people because at the Peer Center people come in and like oh you have mental illness and you have addiction issues and you’re playing cards. How does playing cards help? How does gardening help?

Gabe: [00:04:09] And here’s what I say. Are you ready for this?

Michelle: [00:04:11] I’m ready.

Gabe: [00:04:12] When you sit down with a group of likeminded people to play cards you talk and this whole game of spades or Uno or whatever game you choose to play that’s just kind of the distraction. Well you’re actually doing is talking about the things that are bothering you just like everybody else who plays cards you talk about your week. You talk about your grandkids you talk about your grandparents if you’re young you just you’re playing cards against humanity you feel bad. But in the best of ways. But these are very social activities. So, while you’re doing these social things you’re talking about the things that are that are eating you inside or you’re bragging about the things that you’re proud of to other likeminded people. Now nobody leaves a Fountain House or the Peer Center or any drop-in center and says Hey I said that I was 35 days sober and I was really proud of myself and everybody said they were proud of me too. No, they say I played cards but we know that you can play cards anywhere you went for that reassurance from. From people who are like you and understand. And that’s really the magic of these places.

Michelle: [00:05:18] It is the magic of these places. People find it interesting that I have friends that are so much older than me. I go to Fountain House. One of my best friends there she’s 56. Like people your friends a 56-year-old woman. No, she’s a really awesome person. She has great things to say. I love speaking to her. Why is it judgment. Is it stigma that she’s 56? What’s the big deal that she’s 56? We have likeminded mental capacity with mental illness and we just talk about regular things. Age doesn’t even make a difference there.

Gabe: [00:05:52] It is hard to find people. Probably because of the stigma that understand what we’re going through. You know I live with bipolar disorder and as you know people with bipolar disorder except for like my people we aren’t wearing shirts that say bipolar so people with schizophrenia people with depression we tend not to advertise it. So, it’s really easy to feel alone. But when you go to a drop-in center you go to a place like this you can sit around other people who also admit to living with mental illness and you can have real conversations about it. Listen Michelle and I we didn’t meet in a drop-in center but we could have you and I could have met in a drop-in center.

Michelle: [00:06:28] Oh definitely.

Gabe: [00:06:29] Yeah. We could’ve just been sitting there like Hey I take meds and it causes sexual side effects and my mouth is dry and you would’ve been like Oh my God.

Gabe: [00:06:36] Me too. And we could have just had this great conversation about how sometimes our medication pisses us off and when we left, we would’ve felt better because I would’ve been like oh my god I thought I was the only one. And you would have been like wow at least I’m not pitiful like that guy.

Gabe: [00:06:50] And the whole thing just drives forward that’s the magic of having a place where we belong and everybody has this. You want to play basketball you go to a gym. If you’re fat you join a gym.

Michelle: [00:07:03] Or you eat a bunch of Oreos.

Gabe: [00:07:05] I love Oreos.

Gabe: [00:07:07] All I’m saying is.

Michelle: [00:07:08] It’s a place of acceptance.

Gabe: [00:07:10] It is a place of acceptance and everybody has this in society. Everybody has this. There are all kinds of clubs and social events. There’s a whole website called meetup.

Gabe: [00:07:21] We’re likeminded people can.

Michelle: [00:07:22] Meetup. That’s how I found Mike post collegiate lacrosse team was meetup.com.

Gabe: [00:07:27] There you go. So, we like to be around people who understand us. We like to feel understood and that that’s not a mental illness thing. That’s not an addiction thing. That’s a human thing. And that’s why drop in centers consumer operated services peer run organizations the clubhouse model. That’s why all of these things are fantastic. But that sort of leads us into support groups because support groups are, they’re not the clubhouse model because you know clubhouse drop in centers et cetera.

Gabe: [00:07:54] They’re open like for periods of time you know they’re open for like you know morning to night etc. whereas a support group especially a Community Support Group is usually like an hour to an hour and a half maybe once or twice a week. So very different vibe.

Michelle: [00:08:10] I would agree with that. Yes.

Gabe: [00:08:12] And there’s two types of those groups. Well there’s probably more than two types but two types that we’re going to talk about here. There’s pure run support group which means a person with mental illness running a support group for other people with mental illness or in the case of like Alcoholics Anonymous recovered alcoholics running a support group for people who are trying to recover or in recovery from alcoholism. So that’s the peer run model.

Gabe: [00:08:35] And then there’s the more you know medical model it’s run by a social worker or psychologist or you know somebody with some sort of training and they both have their pluses and minuses. One is not better than the other. They both have their pluses minuses now Michelle you went to more than a few if I’m not mistaken.

Michelle: [00:08:53] A support group?

Gabe: [00:08:54] Yes support group that was led by a doctor or a social worker.

Michelle: [00:08:59] Well the first kind of support group I’ve really went to was when I was in a psych ward and it was just kind of run by a nurse and we would just go around talking and something that I got out of it that I didn’t even really follow was. Do you journal you should keep a journal and measure your mood in that way? And I was like Oh OK. Sure. The most reason why I even went to those little support groups that were having in the psych ward was because I was so bored. I just wanted to talk to people. But that actually was really helpful and it was nice talking to people. And of course, that wasn’t my last time in the psych ward because the next one I went to we didn’t do any of that. And I realized this is the worst hospital ever, because that other hospital was so much more helpful because they had a support group for us to all talk but this other hospital didn’t do anything for us. So, I realized that a support group in a hospital is actually very beneficial. It made me feel better. We were talking to everybody else that was in in the psych ward then and they were talking about things that got them there and things in the past learning about them. And it was very interesting to get everyone’s story.

Michelle: [00:10:13] And then when I was in the other hospital nobody really shared stories. And there was no support group. Everyone was just kind of talking to each other a little bit but nothing was really organized and it made me feel lonelier because I didn’t know why anyone else was in there.

Gabe: [00:10:33] I think it’s interesting that you were in this other hospital and you were like Oh my God I’m so bored I’m gonna go to this thing and please correct me if I’m wrong but you thought you’re gonna hate it. You thought it was stupid and dumb and you didn’t want to go. You were just so bored you were like oh I’m going to do this even this crap.

Michelle: [00:10:47] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:10:48] And then you missed it like you got so much out of it you wanted to do it again.

Michelle: [00:10:53] Yes.

Gabe: [00:10:54] I can see why you believed this.

Gabe: [00:10:56] I don’t I don’t judge you at all when somebody said hey I want you to sit in a room full of strangers and talk about your eating disorder or your bipolar disorder or your depression or suicidality I was like No. Why. Why do I want to know? No this is dumb. This is stupid. I felt the exact same way I got so much out of it. I first started like you with the you know the more I don’t wanna say traditional but the kind of everybody thinks about with the nurse or the doctor or the social worker sitting up front and the fun is organized in a specific way medically. You know they ask questions everybody shares that kind of thing. But then as that evolved it when I got back out in the community you know those were expensive and I didn’t have a lot of money. But what was free or very low costs like you know throw a couple dollars in a hat kind of thing we’re peer run support groups. And that was the same kind of idea.

Michelle: [00:11:50] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:11:50] People sharing stories etc. except the facilitator or moderator is another person living with mental illness. Again, the most famous peer run support group of all time is Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s exactly like that except for mental illness or depression or bipolar or you know just depending on how it’s structured. I loved these groups the one that I joined very first. Are you ready?

Michelle: [00:12:11] Yes.

Gabe: [00:12:12] Bipolar bears.

Michelle: [00:12:13] Bipolar bears. That sounds good because you are as big as a bear.

Gabe: [00:12:17] Oh man that’s so mean.

Michelle: [00:12:19] I want to see a fight between you and a bear and see who wins.

Gabe: [00:12:22] The bipolar bear.

Gabe: [00:12:24] I picked the support group though because I was scared and the name was so adorable.

Gabe: [00:12:30] No that’s kind of a messed up thing to say but I just I thought How can I be scared go into a group of bi polar bears. honestly that that’s just what I thought. Like how can I be scared?

Michelle: [00:12:41] Was there a stuffed animal bear that you had a hold every time you were speaking?

Gabe: [00:12:45] No but that would be a really good idea. I was very nervous to go and here some hints and tips for some people who are nervous to go. Go with a friend. Even if that friend doesn’t go into the room with you even if the friend has drops you off and waits in the hall. 1 – That’s a really good friend and 2 – you know sometimes that’s all it takes. You know somebody to like pick you up go to dinner first then go. I had somebody help me go to the group because I was scared she didn’t go in with me but she dropped me off and waited and I thought that was really super cool of her because I was scared to go but then you know I got to know people I made friends with the moderator facilitator you know just I became more comfortable just as we’re all you know as humans do.

Gabe: [00:13:30] And then I just became a person who went to this support group for a long time and then after a while I felt that I wasn’t getting anything out of it anymore like I had shared all of my stories I had heard a lot of stories and there’s a lot of power in that too. There’s a lot of power in hearing other people’s stories.

Michelle: [00:13:47] There really is there really is because you might think that you’ve done horrible things in your life and then you hear somebody else and you’re like oh we’re equal or you might hear somebody else Oh that’s way worse than what I did.

Gabe: [00:13:58] And it’s not about judgment. It’s about sort of sharing the burden.

Michelle: [00:14:02] It’s about understanding what your illness is and what could happen what could not happen and what you’ve done in your life and how you can accept it. Really.

Gabe: [00:14:13] Yeah. And when somebody tells you something that they did when they unload on you know they just. I didn’t mow the lawn and I was supposed to mow the lawn. And then you say to them you’re like look I didn’t mow the lawn either. There’s that connection. There’s that understanding. And that person feels better. And then you’re like Wait. Now I feel better because I helped you. And there’s just there’s a lot of power in that more so than people think and listen. Replace lawn with anything you want. Obviously when I walked into these groups for the first time, I thought I was the only person that never mowed the lawn. And then I learned that it was just so common. And then after I was there for a while new people walked in and they thought they were the only people that never mow the lawn. And I got to tell them that I mow the lawn. And I’m also thinking wow of all the analogies and examples to use. Why did I pick lawn mowing?

Michelle: [00:15:01] I don’t really know because I haven’t ever mowed on either.

Gabe: [00:15:05] Oh it’s OK though.

Gabe: [00:15:06] Neither have I.

Michelle: [00:15:07] The only as a peer support group if I ever went to. I went with my bipolar friend who took me to the bipolar support group at Columbia University where it’s just donation to get in.

Gabe: [00:15:17] Yeah.

Michelle: [00:15:18] And so I went there and I was talking I couldn’t relate fully to what everybody was saying but it was very interesting because this one guy was saying that his hyper sexuality was so big and he’s gay and he had you know unprotected sex and he got HIV.

Michelle: [00:15:36] So you know I’m schizophrenic and a bipolar group and people are talking about you know hyper sexuality and look what happened to this guy I’m a schizophrenic I go through all these troubles I do all these things but wow look what can happen. You know you would learn people’s stories and you know you kind of just understand that things could be so much worse even though you don’t think that your life is amazing.

Gabe: [00:16:02] We should probably touch for a moment because I don’t want people to get the idea that it’s like the suffering Olympics which we’ve talked about on this show before in a matter of somebody’s story being you know better worse. But at the same time, it is. I know exactly what you’re saying because sometimes I think Oh man, I thought that I hit rock bottom but I could have gone further and then other people they hear my story and they’re like oh wow this guy is way worse than me. It’s not about the judgment. It’s about the understanding the gravity of the situation and the breadth of the situation and just how just how bad it can get.

Michelle: [00:16:39] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:16:40] And then it’s also about finding those people and lifting them up and carrying them up and helping them and making it so that they’re rock bottom is way far below them because my rock bottom was way down there today. But you know when I sort of go into these support groups I was standing on rock bottom.

Michelle: [00:17:00] Hold up. We support from our sponsors. We’ll be right back.

Narrator: [00:17:04] This episode is sponsored by betterhelp.com secure convenient and affordable online counselling. All counselors are licensed accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face to face session. Go to betterhelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counselling is right for you. Betterhelp.com/PsychCentral.

Gabe: [00:17:35] We’re back talking about different types of support groups.

Michelle: [00:17:37] The support groups that you and you were so helpful for you that you became a facilitator. What was that like for you?

Gabe: [00:17:44] So one day I realized that I wasn’t getting anything out of the support groups anymore so I stopped going and that’s a great decision to make. Some people believe that you have to go to support groups for the rest of your life or you’re turning your back on people. That’s not true. You just keep going until you no longer get use out of it and then you step aside and let the next people sort of rise into their places. But I missed it and an organization that I was volunteering for put out a call for peer support facilitators for these groups you had to go through training.

Gabe: [00:18:15] I had to go through a three day training eight hours a day for three days. I had to learn a whole bunch of stuff I had to pass a test I had they had to make sure that I was good at it I guess. We learned things about like hot potatoes like what to do if somebody mess in certain words how to get people help how to have a resources how to structure the group how to you know the rules of engagement as it were how to de-escalate and on and on and on.

Gabe: [00:18:36] And I got through that. And then here here’s me and another person we get our own support group. Yeah. Like Gabe and Jane we’ll call her Jane because I want to protect her or her anonymity. Gabe and Jane now have the support group and people started coming and it’s different when you’re the facilitator. The biggest thing that you have to remember when you’re the facilitator is it’s not about you. It’s not about me at all. Like there’s no part of it that it’s about me. The only thing that I’m there to do is make sure that people are obeying the rules and keeping people safe and making sure that people have the resources that they need. That’s it. You know in a perfect world I wouldn’t speak at all.

Michelle: [00:19:22] Really?

Gabe: [00:19:23] Yeah I would come in. I would start the meeting. I would have everybody read the principles of support I would have everybody read the group guidelines. I would ask everybody by show of hands if they understood. I would ask who would like to go first. And then if everybody takes their turn one at a time and nobody gets upset or triggered and everybody shares information and has a nice reasonable conversation the next thing that I would need to say is all right well we have about five minutes left so we want to go ahead and wind down or they’re there anything that I can answer because we always like to end on time is very important we don’t want groups to go on and on and on and on and on. That would be perfect and you know believe it or not it worked that way a lot. Usually the most I had to do it would say something like. All right who wants to go next or. Hang on hang on hang on Jim. Michelle has been waiting to talk Michelle. You know stuff like that just like little things.

Michelle: [00:20:13] That’s funny because it has such an opposite experience that I had in the in that group that I went to maybe because I’m in New York City and people just can’t stop talking all the time. But it was just one after and another after another after another. A lot of people were talking about you know burning bridges self-sabotage all kinds of things like that with their partners that are cheating on their partners all the time is the hyper sexuality. Things like that. And at one point I had mentioned something about me being in the group but I’m schizophrenic and a girl goes, “Oh you don’t even know what people say to me. They said they say oh thank god you’re bipolar and not schizophrenic” and I’m like yeah I’m feeling this stigma in this group.

Gabe: [00:20:56] Well but wait though you even in your own description though you said that everybody talked one at a time.

Michelle: [00:21:02] Yeah but he was just flowing flowing flowing. It was never who wants to talk next everybody was chatting. Everybody just went on and on and on.

Gabe: [00:21:11] But it sounds like you had a really good facilitator because nobody talked over each other.

Gabe: [00:21:18] There were no side conversations and if there were did the facilitator shut it down.

Michelle: [00:21:22] It wasn’t the facilitator at the end was like this really went very well I also didn’t really have to moderate. You guys talk really great then.

Gabe: [00:21:34] And that’s what I mean by. If you if you do a good job, you’re just kind of like the cop sitting on the side of the road. You don’t have to do anything. People see you and they slow down if you’re a good facilitator you just kind of establish the rules and you enforce them. But you know you don’t have to enforce them unless people are breaking them. And for the most part groups went fine they went fine people learn from each other they share it. People talked and you know support groups are like a buffet take what you want and leave the rest just because something is put out there in a support group doesn’t mean that you have to take it accept it or agree with it. You are more than welcome to leave it right there. And I would encourage people to do this week after week after week and it went fine.

Michelle: [00:22:18] Were there ever any problems?

Gabe: [00:22:20] From time to time there would be a problem. I really want to stress that 90 percent of the time it was fantastic nothing more than you know just reminding people not to cross talk you know cause sometimes there’d be like a little cross talking where somebody is having a private conversation I remind them that you know they need to leave the room if they want to do that that kind of thing or you know I would notice that maybe a shyer person just wasn’t getting wasn’t jumping in.

Gabe: [00:22:43] So I’d quiet everybody down so that you know Michelle would have a chance to talk as she was maybe being a little shy.

Gabe: [00:22:49] You know stuff like that but. But every now and again of a fight would break out and be like No no. And that’s really poor wording on a podcast an argument a disagreement. Tensions would rise people would ramp up backs would be raised and I had de-escalation techniques that I use. I’d say all right stop everybody calms down please let’s all take a deep breath. Michelle, I understand that you’re upset that somebody said that lacrosse isn’t a real sport OK and Gabe. I understand that you think that lacrosse is not a real sport but that is that is not kind you. You should really apologize to Michelle for saying that and then the person usually apologizes and I would say and Michelle when somebody says something you disagree with yelling at them is not the best way.

Gabe: [00:23:42] So would you mind apologizing for yelling and then you would say I’m sorry I yelled at you and I say OK now let’s talk about what we were talking about before and I’d remember like what started the fight and get us back on that and almost I would say all but I honestly I think this worked 100 percent of the time I just really don’t like to say 100 percent of the time the two people they got in the argument would become like BFF’s. They almost always would because they would talk it out you know I would say look I didn’t mean it wasn’t a real sport I was just nervous and I don’t understand lacrosse and you would you would say Yeah look I you know I didn’t invent lacrosse. I don’t know why I got so mad and I’d be like but you’re a sports fan and you’d be like Yeah, I really like hockey. I like hockey and then the next thing you know we’re having a podcast.

Michelle: [00:24:25] How many people are you’re in these groups of you?

Gabe: [00:24:28] Anywhere from the smallest groups I ever had were probably six or seven the largest groups that I ever had were 15 to 16.

Michelle: [00:24:35] That’s huge.

Gabe: [00:24:36] Yeah. We weren’t allowed to have more than 15 people. Yeah, every now and again we would let the 16th person sneak in before we started turning people away but at 15 what was our maximum limit which is why I’m saying 15 or 16 because we really weren’t supposed to go over 15 because you’re right. That’s a huge group. And there were two of us. There were two facilitators and we would sit in a circle and we’d sit on either one and we’d make little notes at each other and we’d look at each other and we would just keep people on the right path.

Michelle: [00:25:04] I knew one person in the group that I went to. She was just there to listen. She just wanted to sit there and listen to people. She didn’t want to participate. Her method was just listening and I know that it was interesting there was a guy next to me. He said he was actually a preacher and he doesn’t really like to talk that much he likes to listen. But he was saying he’s a preacher and nobody that he works with knows that he’s bipolar because he’s a preacher and he asked to keep that that kind of like you know that he has strong you know successful man and he can’t tell anyone. You know in the church that he has bipolar because that would make him look bad. But he comes to these meetings and he listens. He doesn’t speak that much but it just helps him by being there.

Gabe: [00:25:50] By in the room. By being in the presence of other people. That’s enough for some people not me I’m a talker.

Michelle: [00:25:57] Yeah yeah.

Gabe: [00:25:58] I like to do a lot of talking a lot of sharing. I like to offer support but I also needed to remember when to listen and when to shut up and sometimes when I was a group member the facilitators would have to put their hand up and remind me to stop talking.

Gabe: [00:26:13] And that’s a good the thing for a facilitator to do.

Gabe: [00:26:17] And if the facilitator doesn’t write you’re not embarrassed you’re not a shame you’re understanding that they’re making space for everybody. I really like support groups and I encourage people to go to them if they are available in your community. Please go. Oftentimes they’re free. Maybe you got to throw a couple bucks in a hat. But even if you just sit there and listen you’ll learn so much and you’ll be in the presence of other people that have similar experiences.

Michelle: [00:26:43] It’s very it’s very helpful to note that you’re not alone.

Gabe: [00:26:47] Exactly. And some of those people listen. Some of those people will annoy you. There’s personality types that you will not get along.

Michelle: [00:26:54] Oh trust me yes.

Gabe: [00:26:55] And that’s okay too because it shows you that even people who are annoying have mental illness. That’s okay.

Gabe: [00:27:05] My mother annoys me. I still love her. Your mother annoys you Michelle.

Michelle: [00:27:11] Just the little.

Gabe: [00:27:12] Just a little.

Gabe: [00:27:14] And.

Michelle: [00:27:15] I still love her.

Gabe: [00:27:16] Yes.

Gabe: [00:27:17] So the people in a support group you will find that common ground and you don’t have to be best friends. In fact, I discourage going to a support group to make friends should go to a support group to get support. It doesn’t mean that a friendship won’t come out of it but that should not be your goal your goal should be to attentively listen. And your goal should be to truthfully share and if you do that, I think that you’ll get a lot out of it. So, if you are afraid to go find a buddy and go even if the body just sits outside or just go on your own. Talk to the facilitator let him know you’re scared show up early so that you’re there before the big group gets there and tell the facilitator that you’re nervous.

Michelle: [00:27:51] You can always change your name too.

Gabe: [00:27:53] There is most all the groups that I did. Everybody went by their first name and you’re right. We didn’t I didn’t I didn’t card anybody. So maybe everybody’s name was wrong.

Gabe: [00:28:02] I don’t know.

Michelle: [00:28:03] I mean you can change your name you cannot say what your job is.

Gabe: [00:28:07] Yes.

Michelle: [00:28:08] Just share only what you want to share. There’s one issue you want to talk about. You can only talk if you would make us only talk about that issue. That’s what you want to speak about you’re forced to say anything you don’t want to say.

Gabe: [00:28:19] Exactly. You can share as much as you want or as little as you want. All that’s required is honesty. It’s not full disclosure. And I think that people miss that sometimes they think that it’s some sort of an interrogation. It’s not. It’s participation at your speed at your rate. And if the support group isn’t working out for you don’t go back. There’s nothing wrong with that. If I am very lucky as are you Michelle because we live in big cities there’s dozens of support groups. So when I didn’t like one I just joined another one. If that’s the case for you know support group shop. If you only have the one you might have to work a little harder to make it work. But I really encourage support groups and finally the last thing that we want to say is PsychCentral.com has a ton on of online support groups. I like the in person one’s certainly better. The advantage of the online ones is they’re open 24 hours a day. They’re available when you need them. It’s kind of like a drop in center for online. So visit sites PsychCentral.com. Join the support groups and just have a blast. Those groups are really awesome and they don’t pelt you with advertising or ask you for a bunch of stuff either. So we really love Psych Central here at A Bipolar, A Schizophrenic And A Podcast.

Gabe: [00:29:31] Michelle Are we out?

Michelle: [00:29:33] I think we’re out.

Gabe: [00:29:34] Thank you everybody for tuning in. Remember you can head over to store.PsychCentral.com and pick up a Define Normal shirt when they’re gone their gone unless of course we order more or you can run over to PsychCentral.com. Join a support group read great articles everything over there is free and they are a very generous supporter.

Gabe: [00:29:51] Of this podcast. We’ll see everybody next week.

Narrator: [00:29:56] You’ve been listening to a bipolar a schizophrenic kind of podcast. If you love this episode don’t keep it to yourself head over to iTunes or your preferred podcast app to subscribe rate and review to work with Gabe go to GabeHoward.com. To work with Michelle go to Schizophrenic.NYC. For free mental health resources and online support groups. Head over to PsychCentral.com Show’s official Web site PsychCentrald.com/bsp you can e-mail us at [email protected]. Thank you for listening and share widely.

Meet Your Bipolar and Schizophrenic Hosts

GABE HOWARD was formally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2003. Now in recovery, Gabe is a prominent mental health activist and host of the award-winning Psych Central Show podcast. He is also an award-winning writer and speaker, traveling nationally to share the humorous, yet educational, story of his bipolar life. To work with Gabe, visit gabehoward.com.MICHELLE HAMMER was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 22, but incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18. Michelle is an award-winning mental health advocate who has been featured in press all over the world. In May 2015, Michelle founded the company Schizophrenic.NYC, a mental health clothing line, with the mission of reducing stigma by starting conversations about mental health. She is a firm believer that confidence can get you anywhere. To work with Michelle, visit Schizophrenic.NYC.Podcast: Support Groups for Mental Illness – What are They?

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Overcoming the stigmas associated with invisible disabilities

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Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Overcoming the stigmas associated with invisible disabilities

Niraj writes about the importance of recognising all disabilities.
Many people could assume when hearing the word disability is that it refers to someone on a wheelchair, or someone that is blind. However, something that isn’t often talked about enough is invisible disabilities. “Invisible disabilities” is an umbrella term that is used to describe a wide range of disabilities that aren’t immediately visible. They are the same as any other disability in that it creates difficulties for the person that has it. However, as they aren’t visibly apparent, it can be hard for others to understand the difficulties that someone with an invisible disability can face. This article discusses invisible disabilities in more detail, the impact it has on the people that have them, and the stigma that is associated with this type of disability. Many invisible disabilities affect people on a daily basis. For example, chronic fatigue syndrome causes persistent tiredness and fatigue, and generalized anxiety disorder can mean that a person finds it hard to concentrate in even the most basic of tasks. Other invisible disabilities include sleeping disorders and epilepsy. It is clear that all of these provide several challenges to the person that has them, however these challenges sometimes aren’t seen by other people. For example, someone with generalized anxiety disorder may find it hard to go to sleep and have constant headaches on a daily basis but they may appear completely fine whenever you see them. It is worth noting that although people with invisible disabilities struggle differently to those with physical disabilities, these struggles can still take a toll on their mental health and psychological wellbeing. Unfortunately, a lot of stigma is associated with invisible disabilities. Why is this? One reason, and arguably the reason that we need to be aware about is the non-visible nature of these disabilities. Living with an invisible disability means that you can appear fine on the outside, so people make the misguided assumption that if the disability cannot be seen, then it shouldn’t be taken seriously. This is why some people don’t tell others about their invisible disability due to fear that their disability may be seen as invalid and that they are just faking everything. Furthermore, what complicates things further is that some invisible disabilities can vary in severity. A good example would be someone with a mental health condition. Someone with a mental health condition can have weeks where things go perfectly fine, as well as weeks where every day is a struggle, and other people can struggle to understand why every day is so different. Unfortunately, discrimination against people with an invisible disability can sometimes happen in the workplace. Employers are usually comfortable with accommodating employees with visible disabilities as these are disabilities that can be seen, however the same is not always true for employees with invisible disabilities. We need to ask the question, how can we raise awareness and be more understanding of invisible disabilities in particular? First of all, it is crucial to realise that it is quite common and that it spans a wide range of symptoms. As some people with invisible disabilities don’t open up about their disability, it is easy to think that invisible disabilities are rare, whereas that is not the case. However, the thing in which I think is the most important to understand is that invisible disabilities are disabilities in their own right and should be treated as such. Invisible disabilities shouldn’t be seen differently to visible disabilities just because one can be seen and one can’t, as either way, it causes difficulties to the person that has it. If an employer or a university department can make reasonable adjustments for people with visible disabilities, then they should definitely be able to do the same for people with invisible disabilities. If you are someone that currently has an invisible disability of any sort then it is not something to be ashamed about and it certainly does not make you any less of a person. It cannot be underestimated that students with invisible disabilities have gained valuable skills such as adaptability and resilience by being able to not give up despite the limitations that they may face, and that is something that is highly commendable. Despite the stigma that may come with invisible disabilities, there are still several methods of support that are available to university students for a wide range of invisible disabilities, and getting in contact with the Disability Services department at your university can potentially be very useful. Moreover, being able to share and open up about your experiences with an invisible disability can go a long way in educating others and overcoming the stereotype that currently exists in society. It is paramount that we move beyond the stigma that currently exists, and not make judgements about someone purely from what you see on the outside.

"Hi, I'm Niraj! I am a third year student from the University of Warwick studying Maths, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics. Having suffered from anxiety issues whilst at university, I know about the various mental health issues that university students face, and how tough it can be. I therefore want to raise awareness on different aspects of mental health and well being, and help as many people as I can by sharing my own experiences"
For more support visit these helpful articles: https://invisibledisabilities.org/
Posted by Student Minds Blogging Editorial Team at 22:10 Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest Labels: Anxiety, Giving support, Looking after yourself, Peer support, University Mental Health Day

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shame--counsellor-gareth-parry-hebdencounselling.co.uk

Welcome to the Bipolar Club

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

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One of my best friend’s nephews was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He’d been in mental distress for about a year and was self-medicating, so this didn’t come as a surprise to me. In a way, it was a relief because the kid could finally get the right help he needed. I’ve had bipolar disorder since 1991 (and probably before that.) I told my mother that my friend’s nephew was diagnosed.

“Mom, you know Peter’s nephew, Jonathan?”

“Yes,” she said.

“He was diagnosed bipolar.”

“Oh, no!” she said with a horrified look on her face. I might as well have told her that he’d passed away.

I have to say, her reaction surprised me. I didn’t know that she viewed the disease with the angst that she did. But she’s been the mother of a daughter who’s been bipolar for almost 30 years. In many ways, it must be harder to stand by and watch a close loved one go through the roller coaster of this illness than to have it yourself.

18-year-old Jonathan’s diagnosis was certainly no big deal to me. It wasn’t the deal breaker that it appeared to be for my mother.

My friend Peter called me. “Would you talk to Jonathan?” he asked.

“You mean about bipolar disorder?”

“Yes.”

“Sure.”

“You’re the most successful bipolar person I know.”

“Wow, what an honor!”

“No, truly.”

“Well, thank you.”

“You’re more successful than most people I know, never mind the bipolar.”

What could I say? The illness took its toll in years gone by, but today, I was in recovery, had a job, was raising a child, had a good marriage and a freelance writing career, had great friends. I’d finally come into my own. I guess I was a good role model for a newly diagnosed person.

I planned out what I would say to Jonathan.

  1. Take your medication. If you don’t take your meds daily, your life will be shit. (Sorry, about my language, but there’s no better way to say it.)
  2. See a psychiatrist and a psychologist. The psychiatrist will handle the medication, and the psychologist will talk to you and help you cope with this often debilitating disease.
  3. Be careful whom you tell. Not everyone is comfortable with mental disorder. If you spread the word haphazardly, you might lose friends and keep from making new ones.
  4. Don’t mix street drugs and alcohol with your prescription meds.
  5. Plan for your future. Don’t quit school and lie low for a few months or a year. You might never get up. Dig in and get a degree, then a job, then a place to live, etc.
  6. Be happy that they found out what was making you crazy. You’re one of the lucky ones. There’s nothing worse than undiagnosed severe mental health issues.
  7. Rely on your family and true friends for support.
  8. Exercise, exercise, exercise. (This is something that I need to start doing. I don’t always practice what I preach.)
  9. Believe it or not, this malady will make you a strong, better person.
  10. Sometimes, you’ll feel like giving up. Don’t give up.

The above is a list of ten things I’d like to tell Jonathan, but I could go on and on. I think I’ve covered the major issues.

As far as my mother and her horror of Jonathan’s bipolar diagnosis, I have to realize that, again, she’s been experiencing my pain all through my disease process. Now that I’m in recovery, she can display how she feels about bipolar disorder.

I will do my best to help Jonathan. I’ve been down this road before.

It’s not a road I would have chosen, but it’s my road, the road that has characterized my life.

Welcome to the bipolar club, Jonathan. You’ll be fine. You really will. Don’t let the diagnosis get you down.

Welcome to the Bipolar Club

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Social Anxiety and How to Make Friends at University

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Friday, 21 December 2018

Social Anxiety and How to Make Friends at University

Astrid talks about her journey to finding great friends at university.
– Astrid
Often students move halfway across the country to attend university, without knowing anyone else and having to fend for themselves for the first time. My biggest fear about joining uni was not making friends and I shared this fear with most other students.
Being a fresher should be exciting and I didn’t want my worries to prevent me having any fun. Here are some ways I made making friends easier: I decided to volunteer abroad before I began university. I thought it would boost my confidence and make me more comfortable living and spending a lot of time with a new group of people. I was right!
It introduced me to stepping outside my comfort zone for a shorter period of time. It also prepared me to meet a large group of new people and engage with them. Most of the people I met were also volunteering by themselves. Nobody knew anybody beforehand, and everyone was in the same boat!
The stories my fellow volunteers told me were surprising. Many others were volunteering for similar reasons to myself, to boost their confidence or even help manage their mental health. The coordinators even said that about a quarter of volunteers are on a form of medication or treatment for mental health conditions. Volunteering abroad is primarily done collectively, volunteers sharing their interest in helping others and the work they are doing, forming natural friendships with plenty to chat about in the evenings.
Since my first time volunteering, I have joined many different projects with different organisations, both affordable and expensive. The range of people from different backgrounds was far wider on more affordable programmes.
I can’t be 100% sure if my teaching and building work was helping my anxiety as there were so many other things happening as well: meeting new people, living and working together, going out in the evenings and weekend tours. But I would definitely recommend volunteering as it totally worked for me and covers so many bases. I’m not sure if volunteering on my own on a computer in my room would’ve had the same effect!
Once I’d started university, I felt more confident talking to new people and wasn’t scared to live with a group of strangers. I am confident this wouldn’t have been possible without spending time volunteering abroad. However, I still didn’t feel comfortable knocking on people’s doors and introducing myself. I came up with another way to make friends.
I thought if I joined clubs then I could meet people and we would share an interest, as it had worked with volunteering. I made a mistake in joining the football team to begin with. I knew the basic rule, kick the ball into the goal, and thought that it would be great exercise. But I hadn’t considered that the majority of people who had joined the football team had played football at school, some even knew each other from their schools playing each other in the past. My lack of skill made me stand out for all of the wrong reasons.
After failing miserably at playing football, I chose to join the water polo team. No one on the team had ever played before and we were all novices. We instantly had something in common, our lack of water polo skills.
I also joined the ice-skating team. The first couple of lessons were spent with everyone continuously falling over. After the first time it became a joke and we bonded over sore bottoms and bruised legs. Volunteering abroad and joining clubs at university helped making friends effortless. I would recommend anyone who is nervous about making friends at university to volunteer abroad beforehand, even if it is only a couple of weeks before freshers.

When at uni, join as many groups as possible, the weirder and less common the club the more likely there will be fellow newbies who you can bond with over inexperience.

Some Useful Links: Transition to Uni Know before you Go Astrid Halliday loves travelling and especially getting away overseas to help build and develop a community. Volunteering many times with Original Volunteers and also with Habitat For Humanity, she loves sharing her passion and encouraging other to travel in a similar way.
Posted by Student Minds Blogging Editorial Team at 10:30 Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest Labels: Anxiety, First Year (Freshers), Holidays, Looking after yourself, Peer support, Volunteering

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