|Posted on November 2, 2018 at 6:20 PM||comments (1)|
Before I begin, I want to take this unique opportunity to share with you that, for the fourth year in a row, I am participating in No-Shave November. It was originally organized to generate awareness of cancer through the abstinence of shaving. Movember dually promotes men's health/cancer awareness during this month as well. As I'd done last year, I will continue the no shaving all through December to create additional awareness.
While in the previous blog entry I explained what brought about my urge to write (ultimately for NAMI), I also stressed a unique importance with the timing of their offer to publish as well. And for good reason...
Unfortunately, my rekindled determination to advocate for mental health acceptance was not first inspired by positive influence. Instead, there was a very negative factor involved that came to light at almost the same time as when I submitted my writing to NAMI. The trend of questionable treatment began roughly as far back as August of last year. However, during this summer two incidents made it clear I was intentionally singled out and stigmatized because of my mental health.
For years, I have repeatedly reminded myself of what other people have to live through, which is often much less fortunate than my own situation. Everyone who truly knows me, or has had the opportunity to read my blog writing, knows I put myself last when it comes to the wellbeing or prosperity at stake. Regardless, there was no reason for what has happened. Not to someone who is advocating for the necessity of mental health awareness at a time when acceptance is sorely needed for everyone.
As you read my second NAMI Blog, keep in mind the idea of making a negative into a positive. This will help put into perspective what I have gained from this challenging experience, and demonstrate the potential for so much more. I also humbly encourage you to keep those who do bully or discriminate against others close at heart, and offer the opportunity for forgiveness. Either one of us knows just as well as the next person how difficult life can be. Let us work together, instead of belittling ourselves, so that in a single lifetime we can have a chance to help end the stigma plaguing all of society.
Thank you so much for taking the time, making the effort to read and hopefully to share this second of two NAMI Blogs. Bless your hearts, each and every one of you. Now, I present to you:
(click on title for web URL)
As a result of having my first NAMI Blog published on the 11th, I had the privilege of being contacted by an enterprising health practitioner seeking to improve mental health through better grieving. Ms. Haley Harris-Bloom praised my awareness of triggers and bringing attention to the details of early warning signs in my writing. She reached out to me in hopes of sharing the Kickstarter for her GriefGuide app, developed from a year's worth of devoted research.
In her words from the original correspondence, Ms. Harris-Bloom states that "Grief, like other mental health topics, is often swept under the rug and treated as something to ?get over?. GriefGuide is made to let the user know they are not alone, they are not atypical, and to provide grief education and encouragement." I agree as I came to a similar conclusion, with regards to rushed grieving when it comes to victims of suicide loss, in one of my unpublished article drafts just last month.
I humbly encourage everyone to check out Ms. Harris-Bloom's GriefGuide Kickstarter page, at bit.ly/griefguide1. It is my pleasure to share this with all of you so that she has the opportunity to make a positive impact with mental health as I have thanks to NAMI.
Best of luck!
|Posted on October 18, 2018 at 4:35 PM||comments (0)|
Back in late June of this year, I thought to myself and wondered what would happen to me by my 37th birthday? Let alone in the days and months beyond. My future seemed dark and still rather foreboding. I can scarcely remember a time when perception of my life was hardly any different. Such honesty which I have already been rudely criticized for, I might add. I had not yet reached decisive treatment. Though, thanks to a dear friend, I discovered resource case management and my case manager had begun successfully guiding me towards financial assistance and treatment options that I now have. However, I had not been able to achieve my dearest goal of a definitive way to share what I have learned and reach many more people.
NAMI PA Blair County's "In Our Own Voice" program had failed to get off the ground, despite my having completed the re-training as a co-presenter in early May. No one in the mental health community was able or willing to mentor me. I had only touched the lives of a few hundred people through this website and my ongoing community volunteer work. Though, to my joy, I was able to reach people across the world. It had been roughly a year and a half since I made the brave decision to confront my mental illness, while being driven by a stubborn refusal to give up. All of this despite heightened stress and equally stubborn depression that happened to begin peaking during this summer. This summer, of all times to be under such pressure, was also the 15th anniversary of my suicide attempt. Challenging? Yes, but not a struggle.
Yet, here I am still advocating for mental health awareness and acceptance - anyway.
By the end of June, I felt compelled to write a detailed account of what I had learned up until that time. In fact, speaking of acceptance, I owe being bullied on social media by a former high school classmate for the urge to do the writing. It was a good example of taking a negative and making it a positive. In all, I wrote a total of ten pages in the form of questions and answers. This was my "aDvOcate onto others" blog series I posted back in mid-July. That was also when my suicide attempt was 15 years ago to the week; another negative to a positive. On a whim, I decided to submit the content to NAMI to see if they would be interested to publish any of it.
In no small amount of luck (remember, ten whole pages), NAMI Submissions was interested. More recently, I had also submitted a formal article which they then combined with my 'aDvOcate' content. Their interest was to publish not one, but two NAMI Blogs. NAMI; arguably the most renowned national non-profit resource on mental health. Wow! For NAMI to consider so much content - and - the timing of when they did so could not have been any more fortunate for me.
From all my heart, I personally want to thank Ms. Luna for taking the time and extraordinary effort to consider all that content. As well, the decision to offer me both opportunities of publishing national NAMI Blogs is an important accomplishment I cannot begin to express enough gratitude for. This will strengthen my resolve of continuing to advocate for mental health at a time when, as you will see in the second Blog, is very much in doubt here.
I also want to take this opportunity to dearly thank each and every relative, friend, and community service co-volunteer who is reading this right now supporting my efforts "to do more". As I had expressed to Ms. Luna at NAMI Submissions, thank you for making me possible. However, this is not for me...
This is for you.
All of you. I don't care who. Everyone. Close my eyes and point my finger. Blindfold and spin me around, until I'm dizzy and fall to the ground. Yes, everyone. Despite the challenges I face, now more than ever mental health acceptance is simply necessary. I am going to keep doing whatever it takes to live above my mental illness while striving to help inspire in others the same courage I now hold dear.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to read, and hopefully share this first of two NAMI Blogs. I now present to you:
(click on title for web URL)
|Posted on September 12, 2018 at 1:10 AM||comments (0)|
Hello once again and welcome back to following my journey for mental health and acceptance. This is Jim Irion. It is a pleasure to have you with me. Thank you. I must apologize for my absence from blog writing since my July 12th-15th blog series, "aDvOcate onto others". In the weeks afterwards, of all places I encountered additional stigma from within the mental health community here...
I first discovered this troubling trend and had highlighted it in my blog on June 30th. Unfortunately, more clear efforts at stigmatizing me due to my mental health occurred that I did not expect. As a result of the last incident, I spent some time alone to gather my thoughts and regroup my efforts. I honestly had hoped I would not face such inappropriate conduct. Since those involved have considerable influence, I felt I had to remain silent while strategizing my next move. On the other hand, almost as if by a miracle I had a breakthrough with my writing virtually at the same time as this stigma threatened to exclude me from community involvement.
The initial fortune from this new development empowered me to stand up to the stigma here by taking my writing to a whole new level. While I do not wish to disclose what either of these two matters of writing involve just yet, rest assured I will be making an announcement about them in the coming weeks. I want to be as professional as possible with the timing due to the utmost respect I have for the party involved and the opportunity they have offered me. I will then reveal more about my extra efforts at writing in the last four weeks up to today.
So, although this is rather short today I hope you will stay tuned and join me within the next month when I am ready to make the humble announcement. Your patience will be well rewarded.
Remember that, although mental health may not be accepted within your own community right now, never give up hope or falter with your efforts to pursue that necessary acceptance because it is very possible. Thank you, kindly.
|Posted on July 31, 2018 at 1:05 AM||comments (0)|
Poem written by: Jim R. Irion
(click on title for web URL*)
I am not mentally ill.
I have a mental illness.
It does not define me,
or who I can be.
My mental health is important.
Both to me, my friends and family.
I chose to address my mental illness
properly and promptly.
I know in my heart,
what has hurt from the start.
Mental health is important to me,
as it is to help everyone I see.
All lives really do matter;
not one over the other.
I am a suicide attempt survivor.
I know we deserve this life of ours.
Because of you I know why I am here...
Life is worth so much more
than I ever knew all these years before.
|Posted on July 15, 2018 at 1:00 AM||comments (0)|
What if you do happen to face stigma while advocating in your own community?
Regardless of anyone who may be considering whether to advocate for mental health awareness, all it takes is having heart and the courage to do the right thing. The most important advice I can give is DO NOT give up. Countless people out there need someone who is strong, outspoken, and capable to be their voice. They fear the risk of social ridicule from their friends, family, coworkers, or worse such as losing their job and being labeled as a threat to society. There have also been numerous times since starting my website when I haven't had enough motivation to continue writing. The site itself did not catch on, page views kept going down, fellow community volunteers haven't seemed to pay as much attention, or that my mental health is at its most challenging for me right now. I may even be stigmatized within my community too, which hurts and makes advocating here all the more difficult to accomplish. Yet, I haven't given up either and I won't.
You will likely encounter at least one member of your community, or an influential community leader, who will not support your advocacy no matter how admirable you conduct yourself. What do you do? What if the stigma against you targets your sexual orientation, race, gender identity, mental health symptoms, or your political views even if you keep them fairly private? As long as you respect those around you, remain determined to share your story, continue learning to be identifiable with more people, and persist to volunteer in your community, we as advocates can still succeed. My strength is still enduring as I learn and grow to become a better advocate each day I do this. Why? Because helping to pave the way for others to find their strength, their voice, or the courage to seek out professional help that they need is what matters most. Living with mental illness is possible just as advocating for awareness is too.
As for me...
I firmly believe my mental illness, and the formative experiences of my youth, strengthened my compassionate trait to the point that I can care about and endure more than the average person, or even a suicide attempt survivor, is able to. By also being a very perceptive and expressive individual, I humbly feel I have an important responsibility and a unique opportunity to advocate for this cause. If I can perceive the nuances of my mental illness and express it effectively, more people can relate to or understand what this is like. They will then be more empowered to seek the professional help needed to improve the quality of their lives, or to encourage their loved ones and fellow members of their community to do the same. Sharing my insight creates a true power to make a lasting positive difference. This is what matters. This is how mental health acceptance can be achieved. Besides, where am I right now?
In fact, during mid-July 2003, fifteen years ago this exact week, I had attempted to overdose. So, right now, I know where I was. Fifteen years is a very long time... And yet, where am I now?
I am still fighting the good fight, the right way. Not by oppressing those who are different than me. Not by demeaning others who may be richer or poorer, older or younger than I am. Not by thinking ill of someone because I am afraid of or do not understand them. And not by going out of my way to throw stones in the paths of others who probably already have a difficult life as it is. I do onto others as I would want others to do onto me. By using respect and mindfulness, I seek to target the very core of societal discord. The likes of peer pressure and bullying have gone far beyond high school, on into every part of our society, and have made mental health acceptance difficult to achieve. In fact, it will not happen in my life time. Unfortunately... On the other hand, this leads to one final question I want to ask You.
How long do I expect to fight this 'good' fight?
I don't get live a normal life. I have been at the emotional and psychological doorstep of my own demise more times than even I am probably aware of. For a number of years I have simply felt ready to go; worn out by years of internal suffering. My back is against the wall, negativity often gnawing at my heels every day, people I know and thought I could trust or droves of absolute strangers literally hate and fear me. Or they go out of their way to make life difficult for me...
In the words of Marvel's Cinematic Universe Steve Rogers/Captain America - and - a fitting six-word psychiatric rehab memoir:
"I can do this all day."
I own this moment same as either of you can too. Bring it on. Bring on the likes of Thanos and bring on the bullies, because I can still do life all day and advocate to help people like me. Not for fame, money, or glory. Certainly not for me...
For all of you.
And for the person who reached out to me seeking guidance as well as to express her respect for my mental health advocacy efforts, this is for You. What you have done and learned so far in your experiences with mental illness have molded you into a remarkable person. Not to mention your creativity and experiences with music. I wish you the very best and brightest with your endeavors to advocate for mental health awareness.
Let us both, and with others like us, stand our ground against stigma to help change the world's perception and acceptance of mental health.
|Posted on July 14, 2018 at 1:05 AM||comments (0)|
Why do I take advocating for mental health awareness so seriously, such as treating people with respect and avoiding confrontational behavior?
When you are dealing with a person's emotional well-being or mental health, it is very important to do more good than harm. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is simply by being as considerate as possible of their feelings. You will only worsen someone's mental health with intentionally negative behavior. For example, I have been bullied ever since high school and as recently as this year. I was personally oppressed by a member of this community for my respectfully expressed political views. Her silence has caused anxiety and paranoia that she may turn others against me. A former classmate vindictively bullied me on Facebook for my views on LGBTQIA+ despite supposedly being a supporter himself. Both of them knew I had a past history of being bullied. The first one also knew that I have mental health diagnoses. Yet, they were intentionally hostile because of their hateful motivations.
So I ask myself, "Should I be treated like this especially if it hurts my mental health?" Absolutely not. Neither should anyone else with or without mental health issues. I take my advocacy very seriously, because I know what being oppressed and intentionally bullied feels like. Miserable, threatened, worthless, as if you shouldn't fit in socially or don't belong on this world at all. Bullying behavior has become a serious problem in our society and a lot more action needs to be done to stop it. If someone demeans you by saying nasty and hateful comments, or threatens to follow you off the city bus and assault you for the outfit you wear (which happened to someone I know), these actions hurt your emotional well-being. I do recognize a need to balance being too hard or soft on someone. Negative bullying behavior, however, serves no purpose but to inflict harm on a person who is probably already struggling.
As the age-old adage goes, "Why can't we all just get along?" Treat others the way you would want to be treated. You won't be perfect or respectful every time or with everyone. I know this just as well as anyone. I have my days where I don't think before I speak, but you sincerely apologize and try to do better next time. And I do mean a genuine, honest apology too. Last year, at the County's annual NAMI Recovery Conference, two representatives from our local Department of Veterans Affairs gave a presentation on mindfulness. This was the very first time I had attended any discussion at length about the topic. What I discovered afterwards was a profound moment in my life. I realized how and why I had been able to cope with my mental illness for all these years. By knowing yourself and regarding how you treat others, which is informal mindfulness, I could also focus on bullying with my mental health advocacy.
This was my reaction once I discovered I could legitimately target bullying along with mental health awareness. And it should be a priority too. I care how I treat people because I care very much about how I am treated. Particularly when it comes to those who have mental health conditions such as Anorexia, Autism, Transgender Identity, Social Anxiety, or Major Depressive Disorders. These diagnoses are either caused or are made much worse by negative behavior. Just a series of nasty remarks can easily have demoralizing effects lasting for months or years. While treating someone like a "snowflake" with "safe spaces" takes it to the opposite extreme, intentionally confronting a person to cause emotional harm only makes matters worse. The longer this trend continues the tougher it will be to achieve mental health acceptance. When advocating, it has also been very important to avoid being unintentionally confrontational too.
During my first time posting public blogs, between 2009 and 2010 as a student attending Penn State Altoona, I had noticed a trend with social media that I felt was troubling. People would post blogs declaring their opinions or unsubstantiated points of view as facts. Or they would make inflammatory comments on websites, such as Twitter, and accomplish nothing except to anger many people who read what was posted. So, back then when I started blogging I made sure to present the topics I discussed in a straight forward, objective manner and kept my personal opinions to myself. I quickly realized the benefit of this approach when I started my advocacy in late 2016. Instead of making assumptions about mental health I could be mindful or would cite professional sources. Rather than causing an uproar by boasting personal opinions I would avoid being confrontational. Mental health should be taken this seriously because bullying is a major problem affecting mental health.
Not everyone, however, has made the same choice.
Since I last attended college during 2010, bullying behavior has worsened dramatically especially after the 2016 US Presidential Election. Racism, homosexuality and gender identity, conservative versus liberal ideologies as well as political or pro-Trump views, stigma and fear that still surround mental illness as opposed to mental health, have all become much more volatile issues in the public mind. Many people have seemed to care less about their ignorance and more about oppressing others sometimes without remorse. The unfortunate casualty of this is us; those caught in the middle of the social unrest. The more confrontational we are, or when it comes to mental health, the worse off we will all be. I advocate with such a priority of treating others with respect, and to avoid expressing inflammatory opinions, because I would be making things worse if I didn't. No one's mental health would improve.
So, I need to set a good example as an advocate and as a person if I ever hope to help improve mental health awareness.
People who identify as a different sexual orientation or gender identity are very contentious issues. How have I dealt with this when I advocate for mental health awareness?
In order for mental health acceptance to be achieved, I feel I need to be respectful and considerate of others. That means everyone, including those who identify as LGBTQIA+. Having un-coerced interest towards the same sex, knowing you feel your identity is the opposite gender since childhood, and so on, should not subject a person to intentional harassment, violence, or discrimination from anyone. Why? Do onto others as you would want others to do onto you. As long as the individual, who identifies as LGBTQIA+, is respectful and considerate towards their peers then they deserve as much of a right to be treated with respect and kindness as I do. Same as with people of a different skin color, age, gender, religious or political beliefs, mental health diagnoses, and the list goes on. However, as I'd said above, this issue has become much more challenging to deal with particularly when advocating for mental health awareness.
By anger and from fear, or stigma.
At least in this country, it has become more socially acceptable to intentionally lash out with bullying behavior than to be considerate of others regardless of the differences involved. The end result has been more confrontations, more animosity, suicide rates have gone up, and gun violence particularly in public schools has increased, rather than actual peaceable acceptance and cooperation to work towards getting along with each other. You don't have to accept everyone different from you, but do not go out of your way to harass someone unless you want to be treated the same way. No one should be oppressed or bullied to accept people either. Yes, this includes the National LGBT movement as well. Fighting fire with fire does not put the fire out. It makes matters worse. People feel angry, hateful, hated, defensive, or defenseless. In the end, no one's emotional well-being gets any better.
This includes the people who do honestly identify as LGBTQIA+, because they have an equally difficult time with social acceptance and their own mental health.
So, what should you do? To be honest, and in keeping with my objectivity, you really don't have to do anything I advise here. I have shared numerous well-thought out and very mindful points of view on a lot of issues related to mental health and awareness advocating. What I feel has worked and should achieve positive mental health improvements has been to treat people with mutual respect. If someone is of a different racial background from me, whether they are different by age, economic status, have any various mental health diagnoses, or identify as LGBTQIA+, I do - and advocate - onto everyone as I would want everyone to do onto me. This is a truly golden rule which will go a long way towards making a difference that matters even if you face stigma in your community.
July 15th, 2018:
|Posted on July 13, 2018 at 1:05 AM||comments (0)|
What unique qualities do I have which help me to advocate for something as sensitive and complicated as mental health?
Besides being an ideal choice because I suffer from the same issues I advocate for, I humbly feel I possess two standout qualities that give me a particular advantage to be effective. The first is from how perceptive I am. For as long as I can remember I have been well tuned with the use of my senses to experience the world around me. The soft sound of birds chirping in the early morning hours, the variations of vibrantly colored leaves on trees seen during autumn, the smell of fresh air when you open a window (depending on where you live), traditionally made Italian Stromboli with the delicious taste of smoked ham and melted cheese, or the softness from the edge of a blanket upon my fingertips. With practice and patience, mindfulness can also enhance these sensory experiences as well as those in your mind. When it comes to matters of the mind, the level of detail is no less vivid or compelling.
For example, the affirmation of good values when I received praise for thoughtful thank you cards I'd written to my elder relatives in years past, the empowering sense of identity when someone shares your respectful beliefs or life experiences, or when a trusted friend or relative is genuinely there for you when you need it most. On the other hand, perception of positive experiences also includes perception of the equally negative too. A singular example I'll share is realizing that even if I were to consider ending my life it would not solve anything. There is no coming back from that; no second chances. Yet to feel so lost, hopeless, lonely, or without purpose, and to be thrust against the very choice I know will not help me at all. Literally feeling trapped between life and death itself, in a way that many people may never truly understand or accept. Being this perceptive does require a certain amount of strength.
The second unique quality, as you've just seen, is that I have a way with words. I can be very detail oriented to explain intimate experiences with rich and descriptive expression. Ever since the science fiction I watched while growing up had awe inspired my imagination, I've had an interest in some form of writing to express this creativity. I used to try writing short stories before and after I graduated high school as well. In my experience of this talent, words are like a single shade of color on a painter's palette; simply pick a word. The world is at your fingertips. With continued practice and the use of mindfulness, I feel I have been able to put into words some of the most basic and complex emotional experiences despite just being an un-trained amateur. If I can use these two skills to my advantage, to perceive and express my mental health, then many people can benefit from my efforts.
What have I learned about advocating for mental health awareness that would be helpful to share?
One of the most helpful things I have personally learned is that I am not an expert on advocating in general or for mental health. I constantly remind myself of who I am in the grand scheme of things by practicing mindfulness to be aware of myself and those around me. I try to have humility so I can be humble for how I advocate on anyone's behalf. I also strive to keep myself in check from being over-confident because I feel I always have more to learn regardless of the circumstances or the issues involved. Mental health is very complicated and ever-changing. What works for or was one person's experiences will not be the same as someone else. That being said, after almost two years I feel I have learned some important things about mental health and my own experiences which could be helpful to share with all of you.
In order to advocate, I have recognized the need to withstand at least some negativity in order to provide details that are productive for people to learn from. This includes those with mental illness, the general public, and service providers. If my most difficult experiences include suicide, for example, then I must be able to manage those harsh emotions before I can hope to advocate about them effectively. My attention to sensitive experiences is not something a person with mental health diagnoses should do without first making sure they are prepared to handle the additional emotional pressure. I have found that it takes strength to endure my mental illness and to advocate. Yet, this is strength that people can and do possess. I believe it. With attention to detail and being prepared to shoulder the extra burden, people such as me can go a long way with effective advocacy for mental health awareness.
If I can be strong enough to share helpful details about my perception of mental illness, I also need to be identifiable and to a wealth of different people. There may be a dozen ways for me to express what a certain symptom is like from my point of view. Though, not everyone's experiences or symptoms would be the same as my own. I could also personally identify with anyone that I hope to reach out to because I want to help them. Yet, not everyone will find it easy to identify with me whether they have a mental health condition or not. It is important that I strive to adapt what I share and how I advocate so I can be more identifiable. The more people whom can relate to me will generate more of the social bonds that can empower those same people for improving the quality of their lives and of those around them. It is also an important responsibility to advocate accordingly towards people of many different backgrounds.
You will find different age groups, nationalities, unique life experiences or various mental health symptoms, people who have been or are incarcerated, different faiths or religious beliefs, individuals battling addiction or who are co-occurring with their mental health symptoms, suicide attempt survivors versus victims of suicide loss, combat veterans with or without physical disability but may be more likely to internalize emotions, differing sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as friends, colleagues, and relatives of or those with mental health conditions themselves; virtually every walk of life imaginable each with their own unique experiences. These are also people that can benefit from a capable advocate who respects and understands their uniqueness. It is very important to be as appropriate as possible with how you advocate as well.
A good example is from the fact that I am a suicide attempt survivor. I may be able to share these sensitive experiences or feel driven to help others like me. On the other hand, I need to be mindful of who I am around or where, and of how I share my own personal experiences. Mental health topics, such as suicide, are not as easy for everyone to understand, accept, or to handle on their own. For example, some suicide attempt survivors and especially survivors of suicide loss have a difficult time with this issue simply because it can get very emotional. Different diagnoses such as Bipolar, Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa, Autism, Co-occurring with Addiction, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are challenging to deal with individually. These conditions may also be stigmatized in society at any given time as well. Intimidation and fear of reprisals still keep many people in silence.
Although there is a growing trend of acceptance towards mental health, it has been my priority to be as mindful as I can of how appropriate I am. While I tend to be more outspoken and realistic with my blogging, I have learned I need to be more professional when interacting with community leaders to avoid being stigmatized as a suicide risk. For the last half year, I have become more involved with our local Suicide Prevention Task Force and have learned to be careful what I say about suicide due to how sensitive an issue it is to others. While I continue to volunteer as a member of NAMI, I have learned to make sure I keep advocating for those who identify as LGBTQIA+. They are an important group of people facing a particularly challenging time of finding acceptance and wellness in their lives. Suicide attempt survivors are often feared by society when many of us are some of the most compassionate and caring people you will ever know.
By making sure I am as appropriate as possible with my writing, my attitude, and community service volunteering, I will help create a more positive environment for mental health acceptance as well as to set a lasting proper example for others to respect and follow.
July 14th, 2018:
|Posted on July 12, 2018 at 1:15 AM||comments (0)|
I would like to take this opportunity to offer some helpful insight about my efforts to advocate for mental health awareness. An advocacy which I have no training for and no direct help with developing the skills I am using to accomplish it. By sharing a detailed look at my advocacy, I hope this will provide a better understanding of how and why I advocate as I do for those interested to know more. In fact, someone who had seen one of my recent social media comments promoting my website had chosen to reach out to me. The admiration for my attention to respect this individual has expressed, and the respectful way they have treated me is what brought me back to writing so soon. Thank You for your part to inspire me and for your passion with this cause. I hope what I share here can also help people recognize the importance of treating people with proper respect rather than bullying them because they are or feel different.
Who can be an advocate for mental health awareness?
Simple; a hero can be anyone, as is stated by actor Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan's film, The Dark Knight Rises. "Even a (man) doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young (boy's) shoulders to let him know that the world hadn't ended". This is why the character of Bruce Wayne, as Batman, is my favorite of all-time. I have attended no classes, although there may be a class out there in which certain guidelines or skills are taught. I've had no mentor. Or, to put it a better way, I have had no specific single mentor for guidance with this advocacy. I don't have the best inter-personal social skills either. Most people can accomplish what I have done, and more, with the talents you already have or skills you can strive to learn. I simply believe in myself and have confidence that I can and should work to achieve greater mental health awareness.
How can someone advocate, whether they have a mental health condition or not?
Advocating can be achieved through writing or speaking in some public manner for defending or to support positive mental health awareness. A certain level of responsibility is required for how and to whom you express yourself, as well as being prepared to face challenges such as stigma from members of your community or discrimination by potential employers. However, with relatively little experience virtually anyone can advocate in some form for a wide range of mental health issues and various diagnoses. Through my efforts, I have come to recognize at least three methods to advocate where the level of commitment, and public interaction, does vary to allow an approach that will feel most comfortable to consider.
The first method, in which I began my advocacy, was by writing at length about relevant topics and mindfully sharing my personal experiences with mental illness. This can generate productive discussions all across society where mental health is a major issue, but without direct interaction with people. In order for my content to be read and shared by others I made use of this (free) publicly accessible website to publish my blog writing. As a result, anyone from members of my own community to people across the world are able to read and discuss what I share. Another form of writing can also be through magazine publications. Thanks to information provided by the keynote speaker from last year's local NAMI Recovery Conference I was offered an opportunity to write for "People First", a statewide mental health publication. However, due to a long delay for the State budget to get passed, this opportunity has yet to materialize.
At least for the foreseeable future I do intend to write and continue posting blog entries.
The second method I accomplish advocating for mental health awareness has been to volunteer in my community. This involves as minimal or as much interaction with community members as you feel comfortable and typically takes place just within the county where you live. Volunteering can serve as a way to visibly show and proactively offer your support while allowing you to explore more ambitious opportunities for advocating. During the last two years, I have interacted with a number of community leaders such as our distinguished former County Commissioner who has seen my prior volunteer work firsthand, numerous members of the general public, as well as direct involvement with volunteers from local branches of two non-profit organizations (NAMI, AFSP). I have attended or participated in exceptional annual events and have met some of the most wonderful and dedicated people thanks to my community service volunteer work.
Despite my ongoing mental health treatment and career planning, I hope to continue volunteering in some way for years to come.
The third method I am pursuing to advocate directly for mental health awareness is to explore opportunities offered by these non-profit organizations. This requires being comfortable with and prepared to engage in the most public method of advocating. Founded in 1979, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the ideal source for a wide range of mental health awareness information and advocating efforts. As a member of NAMI, through my local affiliate office, I have been able to actively participate in this County's annual Recovery Conference and to explore opportunities for advancing my advocacy ambitions. Depending on what your nearest affiliate office has available, NAMI offers a unique range of both educational programs and innovative mental health trainings. These help to strengthen awareness as well as empowering community members with the experience gained to better serve mental health needs in their communities.
Founded in 1987, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is the single best outlet for suicide awareness and prevention efforts as well as having a wealth of very important information on suicide-relevant issues. Through my local Suicide Prevention Task Force (SPTF), and in past years as a community volunteer, I have been able to attend several AFSP-sponsored Out Of The Darkness Walks for suicide prevention. As a result of having endured suicide loss of a former Junior High classmate, and from experiencing this personally as a suicide attempt survivor myself, I have found these Walks to be an incredibly profound event for emotional healing. It is specifically with suicide that I hope someday to make a powerful and positive impact for helping to put an end to so many needless losses of beloved human life.
Currently, I am trained as a co-presenter for NAMI's own specialized "In Our Own Voice" program, in which capable people with mental health conditions can give truly empowering presentations to a variety of public venues and audiences. Thanks to an opportunity provided by a regional mental health expert, I also currently have QPR Gatekeeper suicide prevention training. QPR, which stands for Question Persuade Refer, allows capable members of the public and mental health professionals to be trained as "gatekeepers" who are better prepared to recognize warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to respond. Thanks as well for the generosity and fairness of the local NAMI affiliate's Board President, I have also had the opportunity to give what was my first-ever presentation about my mental health at last year's annual May Is Mental Health Month Conference.
Although I am exploring registering for my own vendor table at local events, and to give additional self-written public presentations, I cannot say for sure yet whether I will be able to accomplish these ambitions in my community. Thus far, I have encountered apprehension and possibly even stigma that is likely because I am an outspoken advocate or from being a suicide attempt survivor as well. Despite such potential setbacks, I want to encourage everyone to pursue similar advocacy goals wherever or with whomever you may volunteer. As one respectful mental health professional and keynote speaker inspired me to do, someday I hope to give a rousing presentation about my mental health on the steps of the State's Capitol building. Make your dedication known and your voice heard! Your efforts will ultimately benefit anyone who stands to gain from improving social wellness and mental health.
Where these trainings, presentations, and any future ambitions will lead me for making the passionate difference I aspire towards with mental health awareness should prove to be a fascinating journey indeed.
Why did I decide to advocate for mental health in the first place?
The simplest answer is because of my personality type. During my first attendance at Penn State University Altoona College, seventeen years ago, I happened to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator assessment. Although back then I tested as the rather uncommon ENFJ ("The Protagonist"), last year a best friend reminded me about the assessment so I tried it again. This time, I happened to test as a different personality type. I had gone from the extroverted protagonist to the rarest personality type INFJ ("The Advocate"), which instead is introverted. In fact, I retook the assessment just to be sure the Advocate result was accurate and I got the same result then too; a fitting feather in my cap because I was already advocating when I took the assessment again.
Another influence with why I decided to advocate for mental health awareness is due to the fact that I am a very compassionate person. There are two reasons for this. The second is I have become this considerate of others from my prolonged experiences with depression. As a result, I have a heightened sense of empathy which allows me to easily identify with someone else who experiences emotional hardship. Understanding the difficulty of living with feelings like hopelessness, sorrow, fear, or rejection is a trademark of many people who live with mental illness. When I say I know what this is like I am expressing empathy towards others. On the other hand, before the onset of my first anxiety symptoms (between ages 12 and 13), I was actually developing a likeness for compassionate behavior then too which would be even more beneficial for my advocacy. This is the first reason.
By the time I was in Elementary School (4th-6th grades) I was already well on my way to becoming a caring type of person. My evidence for this is I wrote thank you cards to my elder relatives with such a genuine attention to thoughtfulness that I received considerable praise. Praise I liked. My paternal Grandmother always used to tell me, "God bless ya, Jimmy", and I can remember exactly how she used to say it too. I even used to consider writing for Hallmark greeting cards someday. Although I was bullied during Elementary School, I hadn't really felt as socially isolated or rejected as I did after attending Junior High. Sure I ended up going through a full range of anxiety and depression experiences until my overdose attempt at age 21. But my compassionate sensibility was already a permanent part of me by then and to now. So, I can identify with emotional hardship and care about how it makes people feel.
July 13th, 2018:
|Posted on June 30, 2018 at 1:10 AM||comments (0)|
Now, more than ever, it comforts me to have faith that at least someone is taking time out of their busy day to read what I share here. I do know there are still at least several friends, family members, and community volunteers who do read my writing. Your unspoken moral support warms my heart so very much. Bless your hearts and thank you. I've also noticed that in the last few weeks my website page views have been active. That makes me feel a special kind of happy. It is with this opportunity I want to share some details about these last two months that I feel are important for me to acknowledge publicly and to be honest about with you.
After nearly two years of sharing these blogs I have come to a crossroads. No, I do not intend to stop blogging anytime soon. I plan to continue sharing of my journey so that other people can find the strength and courage to overcome their own adversity. After all, and this is especially for any suicide attempt survivors out there reading this, we didn't come this far in our lives to give up so easily. We are meant to be here and can still succeed with finding happiness that each and every person deserves to have. Amen. I am only involved with mental health awareness volunteer work (get this) to help everyone. Yes, everyone. I want to save lives and inspire every person that I can. If you are struggling, or know someone who is, I am advocating for you. Please, don't thank me. I would do all of this again in a heartbeat.
Though, in recent weeks I have had to face a stark realization that my advocacy efforts have now likely been met with intentional resistance in my own community. I knew not everyone would be comfortable or acceptant of me as an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness, whom also has prior suicide attempt experiences. I accepted the responsibility for being a public advocate and did my best to anticipate the risks of anyone who would not be supportive of my goals. Suicide is a rightfully sensitive topic that requires a particular attention to care when dealing with it. The reason for this is simply to do more good than harm. And I want to do this advocacy right; perfectionism used for positive goals. But I cannot avoid people who still stigmatize me for who I am, or my mental health, without giving me a reasonably fair chance.
The stigma I have perceived may in fact be because I am an ambitious and outspoken, but mindful suicide attempt survivor. It could even be because I am a straight, white, male as opposed to the more popular cause of identifying as a member of the overly-inclusive LGBTQIA+ community. Perhaps the stigma I have been experiencing is a result of my privately, but respectfully expressed political views being in opposition to a certain community leader whom has considerable influence here. If either of these reasons are true as I suspect, then such reactions towards me are obviously not productive or appropriate behaviors. Back in late 2016, my impression of mental health awareness efforts in this community was that the goal should be to help people. No ifs, ands, or butts. Help people, save lives, stop stigma, prevent bullying, and educate people on mental health. Bend over backwards and do it right.
Not a problem for me, at least.
For one, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (which I am a member of) makes it a proud priority to stamp out stigma targeted against people just like me. For me to encounter stigma anyway because of my mental health, amongst those that I have been interacting with in this community, the possibility that this is true has been very difficult for me to accept. A recent experience of poor judgment, by a member of the community I have been corresponding with, is what finally convinced me to break my silence. But in this person's defense, I will say that aside from the way I was treated the individual(s) involved are good people. I wish no ill will upon them. I have co-volunteered with some of the most heart-warming people the likes of which I have not seen since I regularly volunteered as a member of the PSU Altoona Alumni Society Board eight years ago. No doubt or hesitation; just some absolutely wonderful people here. I have also reconnected with two of my former Alumni Board members whom I owe a great debt of gratitude for their continued support.
Thank you, to both of you.
As of now, however, I can no longer ignore a growing trend of stigmatism and unfair distrust directed towards me. I have said, and proven, time and again in the last nearly two years of volunteer work here that I am not a risk to society just because I have attempted suicide in the past. Identity politics also do not determine whether I should or shouldn't help people. I am who I am and I can help. Help me accomplish that, but please do not go out of your way to make it harder for me. Although in good faith I have shared with some of my co-volunteers the true details of my current mental health, I still continue to lead by example. I have let my trustworthy conduct and professionalism to speak for me. Yes, it is true that right now I am having a difficult time. An untimely reason for my high level of stress, I'd referred to during these last two days, is because next month marks the 15-year anniversary of my 2003 overdose attempt.
Everything which had bogged me down then is still unresolved and even tougher for me to deal with now. Make no mistake. The next six to twelve months of my life will determine my future. Though, I am only just beginning to coordinate an effective mental health treatment plan. It is working and needs time to coalesce. I am an honest person, and so I see no reason to lie about the truth with the people I have been volunteering with. If some people in this community feel that my honesty and realism constitutes the right to fear me... If I am simply not a priority or not taken seriously when it comes to matters of administration or activism... I have some very appropriate wisdom for you. Truth in the form of an inspirational phrase card that was actually provided by my local NAMI affiliate office at last year's annual recovery conference.
"A river cuts through a rock not because of its POWER, but because of its PERSISTENCE". Make the StigmaFree pledge today at NAMI.org.
Thank you, NAMI. My thoughts exactly.
As mental health professionals in my community, if your goals are not to advance mental health quality and awareness with fairness and conviction... Well, let me put it this way. I know what my priorities and my goals shall continue to be. From this point on, if the stigma continues you will only prove me even more correct. What was it that I said is a rather defining attribute of mine two days ago? Restlessness? I just can't sit still sometimes. I will not sit still while other people, like me, continue to be unfairly stigmatized. I will not sit still while people struggle each and every day; they suffer in silence when I could be out there advocating for them. Should I just sit still as not only more celebrity suicides occur (Kate Spade*, Anthony Bourdain), but more pre-teen, teenage, and young adults in their twenties continue to end their lives in droves...? Should I sit still while bullying progressive Liberal and radical Conservative influences continue to tear this country apart??
Restlessness doesn't even come close. I have already found my voice; a raging thirst of desperate ambition that will not be quenched before I help change the course of mental health here and elsewhere.
I know what this is like.
If I do not speak out, and say what needs to be said, then the next person will be even less likely to have a voice and guide anyone towards the help they need.
The right thing to do is to act.
The right time to act is now.
Not next month. Not next year. NoW.
And I will not be deterred by indifferent agendas or failures. Why? Because lives and livelihoods are at stake every time we do nothing. The fewer suicide victims weighing on my conscience then the better I will feel.
Consider what I have lived through regarding my mental health diagnoses for two thirds of my life, and before I mercifully found the empowerment and finally the courage to do something about myself. If you had any idea about what this has been like... Two thirds of a person's life just doesn't go away in the instance of a single smile. I did not set foot on this path of helping advance mental health awareness and suicide prevention to fail at achieving my goals. Right here, right now, this is ground zero for me. And fifteen years ago, in mid-July, marks the anniversary of the one time I lost all hope, saw no way out, rationalized something a lot of people never experience, and tried to pierce the veil between my beginning and my end. Think of how many people who don't even make it as far as I have... And I was never the same after my experience... On the other hand, I think this quote from Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland says it best:
"I Can't Go Back To Yesterday... I Was A Different Person Then."
I am a stronger person now because I have been fortunate and have chosen to endure. I am here to stay. What I have learned in the last nearly two years has made my ambition so much stronger when it comes to advocating for mental health awareness. Should members of this community feel intimidated by my determination? Not intentionally, no. What do I intend to do about the apparent stigma I have started to see emerging here? Not much really. What can I do? When influential people decide to intentionally ignore my requests for information or communication, to regard me with unfair distrust, to be unprofessional, or not to allow fair opportunities to publicly advocate, there is nothing I can do. I am powerless to people acting in such a way. You win. I am a nobody. And I feel terrible about the prospect of this situation continuing any longer than it already has. Absolutely terrible...
Fortunately, I am now testing the waters of an alternative option in which I may be able to get myself out in the community to advocate. To ensure the chances for success, I shall keep the details of this new approach to myself for the time being. While I will share the details at some point if it works out, I will also fully intend to continue my involvement with the two local non-profit organizations (NAMI, AFSP) so that I may see this stigma through the right way. By not backing down. Pure and simple persistence. The triumph of the river over the rock. To persist despite intimidating odds of people who fear me, while I strive to make a difference here as well as elsewhere.
I do also intend to update all of you about new developments with my mental health recovery, and the coordination that has been going on in recent weeks to strengthen my treatment plan. Right now, though, I feel it will be best if I wait until I have a more cohesive treatment plan in place. Within a month or so I should be able to better explain the changes to my mental health recovery. Until then, thank you all for tuning in these last three days.
Have a safe and fun 4th of July holiday - whether you are a Liberal or a Conservative - in this country.
And remember, I want to see you back here next time with all of your fingers, toes, and everything else.
|Posted on June 29, 2018 at 1:05 AM||comments (0)|
Right now, my mental health is being challenged to withstand the most stress I have experienced in the last 15 years. After my last blog post, on April 22nd, I knew I had to do something to alleviate the strain I have been going through. This was the biggest reason for why I've been so silent during these last two months. But I also already knew music could serve as an escape or for a way to manage my stress. After all, I have been thoroughly enjoying and experiencing music for most of my life. Earlier this year I shared my first self-music therapy playlist, "The Right Words", which contained more than a dozen lyrical songs. Each song's words really speaks to what having mental illness and facing difficult adversity has been like for me as well as to inspire inner strength.
So, self-music therapy really isn't anything knew here. However, back in May when my mental health symptoms began to worsen, the thought occurred to me that I could take what I had done with that first playlist and go one step further. I could essentially take the fight, or struggling, to my mental health. Would this work, though? Could these playlists help more than The Right Words playlist has? Can music really be personalized and used to combat mental illness in an effective and positive way? What I am about to share with you represents the second and third-ever attempts I have made to use music to my advantage for improving my mental health. I hope that each of you can take away this empowering potential of music in your lives to help you overcome any hardships that you may face.
I would like to share the first of these two new self-music therapy playlists: named Stormbreaker (or sToRmBrEaKeR; capitalized for effect).
The playlist itself turned out to be the largest and longest I have ever made. I delved back through up to 20 years' worth of my self-made compilation CDs, which took 2 whole weeks of every-day-effort to create and organize into this formidable playlist. A playlist whose name was thanks to the inspiration provided by a dear friend of mine, Deb Swanepoel, whom is a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as I am. She inspired the name after going to see Avengers: Infinity War in theaters for a second time earlier this summer. The playlist’s name, Stormbreaker, is the name given to the supremely powerful and supposed Thanos-killing Asgardian axe-hammer seen in both the film and featured in Marvel comics (wielded by Beta Ray Bill).
A King’s weapon, as it was proclaimed in the film, Avengers: Infinity War. The Stormbreaker axe-hammer was touted as the strongest weapon in Asgardian history. “It is so powerful that it was able to deflect a blast from the completed Infinity Gauntlet.” Stormbreaker.
Why name a self-music therapy playlist after Stormbreaker? Excellent question, indeed. The answer is because of the power of the fictional weapon itself and how it is used as a force for good (as well as for my unwavering admiration for the MCU). The supervillain, Thanos, is unbelievably powerful and nearly unbeatable in both the comics and the MCU. In the film, Avengers: Infinity War, Thor pursues forging Stormbreaker with one sole purpose in mind: to defeat evil.
My Stormbreaker playlist contains a total of 93 songs, 89 of which are lyrical and 4 are instrumental, with a total length of 5 hours and 50 minutes. Wow... More like holy.. Wow. Each and every song is not only a favorite that I used to listen to over the past twenty years, but they also have a catchy rhythmic beat and are very strong. Rock, Alternative Rock, Thrash Metal, Industrial Metal, Gothic Industrial Metal, Melodic Death Metal, Heavy Metal, Alternative Christian Rock, Hard Rock, Gothic Metal, Alternative Metal, Rap Metal, and Symphonic Metal. One could say that this playlist contains so much figurative heavy metal, that it is in fact indestructible for the music included within it.
I wouldn't be surprised if, while listening to this playlist, I suddenly feel like shouting "Bring me THANOS". It is that strong.
I would also like to dedicate my sToRmBrEaKeR playlist to a former high school upperclassman whom I have reconnected with in recent months. He has shown a particularly distinguished respect for my advocacy efforts. His chivalrous good nature is unchanged from when I used to know him during Senior High school. I looked up to him then as I look up to him now. Thank you for your honored support, Wayne Campbell. This is for you.
All of the powerful and hardcore music in this playlist is for one intentional and very important purpose: to serve as the first time I have ever gone on the offensive against my mental health symptoms. Symptoms which, as I had mentioned above, are at a critical level for me through the next six to twelve months (time capsule moment). Throughout more than the last twenty years, I have always been on the defensive and at the mercy of my mental health. Since I began my mental health advocacy and focusing community service volunteering directly on mental health awareness, I have been learning more about what I suffer from - and - how I have been able to withstand my mental health for all these grueling years.
One of those most effective methods was mindfulness; knowing thyself.
Yes. I intentionally created this very long hardcore playlist because I am now able to do more to control my symptoms rather than them controlling me. Empowered with the knowledge that I have learned in the last year and a half, I knew music was an effective coping method which I had unknowingly benefited from time and again in years past. So, back in May, the idea came to mind to take that initiative a step further. In fact, leaps and bounds further. Why not create a playlist containing some of the strongest music I have ever listened to? A playlist so powerful that it could potentially serve as a bona fide weapon against severe depression and crippling anxiety.
Hence, when my friend Deb inspired the name for this playlist, “Stormbreaker”, and with all things considered, it felt only natural to choose such a powerful and heroic weapon to name it after. To demonstrate how my style of crafting music playlists has developed so uniquely well over the years, I have decided to share the first two songs in this playlist:
1.) Papa Roach - Days Of War [Metamorphosis]
2.) Linkin Park - No More Sorrow [Minutes To Midnight]
Notice how Papa Roach's song, Days Of War, is instrumental instead of lyrical and how it has a relentless build-up of the beat towards the end. I chose this song specifically for its hard rock genre and to set the tone for sToRmBrEaKeR's signature hardcore strength. I chose Linkin Park's song, No More Sorrow, to be the first lyrical song for a couple important reasons. The first is that I have long since admired the band's standout music, because their first album came out in October the year I graduated high school. But when former lead, Chester Bennington, sadly took his life I also wanted this song here as a tribute to Bennington's one-of-a-kind contribution to both the music industry and the many lives that he touched through the emotional lyrics of his songs.
Although I had considered sharing a full breakdown of the sToRmBrEaKeR playlist here, because it includes music not appropriate for everyone who may read this and so I chose not to. Sharing the purposes behind it, though, was something I simply could not pass up.
Now, I would like to share the second of these two new self-music therapy playlists: named Till The Next Dawn.
While I delved back through up to 20 years' worth of my compilation CDs to find songs for the heavy metal self-music therapy playlist, sToRmBrEaKeR, I also rediscovered additional music that has a special tone to each and every song I decided to include. TiLL The Next Dawn contains music mostly from the gothic rock genre. As I’ve come to know, this genre consists of unique male and female vocals, emotional beats that set the music apart from most I’ve ever listened to, and has a decidedly softer tone than the former playlist above.
Why another self-music therapy playlist? When it comes to maintaining and boosting one’s own mental health, each and every positive influence in your life is an important part of being healthy. So, the more the merrier. While sToRmBrEaKeR will hopefully be a more powerful music influence, TiLL The Next Dawn contains songs that, particularly because of the male/female vocals, strike a unique cord in my mind and heart. They produce a different but still strong emotional effect. This can be helpful for different moods I could be experiencing at any given time that my mental health may be struggling. If sToRmBrEaKeR helps more with empowerment and intensity, TiLL The Next Dawn will help with other moods and for me to feel more at ease.
While I chose not to share the song lists from these two newest self-music therapy playlists, in every sense they still serve a positive purpose for empowering me and inspiring you with the knowledge you have gained. In the weeks and months ahead in my life (time capsule moment), I expect to face some of the toughest challenges with my mental health. I hope that by taking what I have learned in the last year and a half of volunteering in the community I can apply it to improve my mental health when I need it most. No matter whether mental health is a factor in any of your lives or in someone you know and love, you can help yourself and of those you care about by sharing what I am sharing with you here.
Turn the tables against whatever hardships you may face in your lives and find the inner strength to endure as I continue to do.