|Posted on May 20, 2020 at 1:00 AM||comments (0)|
"Revealing the Truth about Suicidality" ©
In society today, a simple mention of the word suicide often creates either anxiety or fear-driven stigma. Awareness from news media coverage varies depending upon how well known the victims are. Unfortunately, the positive impact of individual loss victims greatly diminishes anyway within two to four weeks after bereavement. They are no longer here to speak for themselves as capable advocates for change. Numerous reputable studies still show serious mortality rates in many countries, including the U.S. As proven in my Sept. 2019 NAMI Blog, for prevention, “there is no better resource than someone who has lived through this and survived.” Join me as I discuss what I have learned as an experienced survivor of suicide.
To this day, stigma has a constant disruptive influence on how suicide is perceived and addressed. On a basic level, suicide involves the preventable death of a loved one. Feeling anxiety about such a traumatic and personal loss is a natural reaction. However, if you were to ignore what suicide is like to live with and over-react, you can stigmatize others with shame and fear. These reactions make it harder for people to cope with their mental health, thus affecting friends and relatives. Talking about heightened stress is often risky. Coping skills are needed more outside of treatment. Finding someone trustworthy to confide in is difficult. The more I explain from experience, the less likely you will be to react to suicide with fear and confusion.
Since early in my youth, I have found that not keeping my emotions bottled up has been very important. Faking a smile was a common way I saw other people hide from their stress. But this never felt safe or right for me to do. Without expressing negative emotions, through treatment or self-care, your mental health will suffer from the strain. Heightened stress can lead to an increased risk of suicide symptoms. Unfortunately, coping skills take time to learn. So, I was more vulnerable at a young age than I am now as an adult. Although my first symptoms of suicide did not occur until after high school, I did recognize the need to talk about my feelings. I never realized that one of my best coping skills was a habit I already frequently used.
Between Elementary and Junior High, I had few friends outside of school and problems at home. There was not enough positive social interaction for me. Then, I started noticing I was vocalizing my thoughts quietly, while comfortably in my bedroom. At first, this helped me to brainstorm ideas. I just regarded the habit as thinking out loud since talking was socially acceptable. When I encountered negative emotions, it felt natural to express my feelings in the same way. So, I vocalized anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, and anxiety. By expressing them on my own, I felt better and unknowingly avoided a build-up of stress. I kept it private because I felt people would misunderstand and, for lack of a better word, think I was crazy.
Now, I know this secretive habit as a coping skill called self-talking. Why do I still need to be so private about it even now? A lack of acceptance keeps me from feeling comfortable with my mental health. Stigma about suicide frequently causes anxiety. I do not feel safe openly expressing myself as a survivor. Fortunately, for over twenty-five years, I have used self-talking responsibly to cope with negative emotions. I cannot imagine what suicide ideations would be like without it. There have been no problems because few people overhear what I do express. Though, self-talking by itself is not entirely effective. I have found it best to seek proper care by a certified mental health professional, whether secular or faith-based, as early as possible.
In October 2018, after ensuring affordability through case management, I experienced counseling and psychiatry for myself. I have also observed a false impression that counseling should help all the time. From their point of view, when behavioral therapy does not appear to be effective, those closest to you may express concern. I know because people have asked me why counseling does not always help. In my case, I waited too long. There are a lot of delicate factors with mental health treatment. First and most important is finding a counselor you can safely and comfortably talk to about your feelings. Treatment is more challenging with suicide symptoms, but it does still help. You need to find what is affordable and works best for you.
Meanwhile, with mental health appointments still on-going, there is something essential that the treatments often cannot fulfill. My counseling sessions and support group meetings typically only take an hour and occur weekly at most. Therefore, regardless of any prescribed medication, this leaves managing most of my mental health outside of those set office hours. Properly coping with thoughts of suicide is much more important too. It is my responsibility to cultivate positive coping skills I can use on my own during this time. Crisis and intervention are available in many locations, but there are other beneficial options you can explore. In fact, by making the most of what is around me, I have been more self-reliant with my mental health.
After attending a mindfulness presentation, I discovered that everyday activities were already useful as positive influences. Some of the best examples include listening to or playing music, watching movies, arts and crafts, hobbies, exercising, or finding ways to relax. I make creative music playlists, watch inspirational movies and interesting gameplay videos, or search for new ideas of activities to do. I can also take something I like, such as a favorite song, and cherish it more to experience a stronger sense of energy and fulfillment. The more I am aware of what is positive and distracts me from a depressed mood, the better I have been able to handle time outside of appointments. Even so, there is still something more helpful than all of this.
From experience, having a close friend or relative who accepts my mental health has been invaluable. Communicating as often as possible with them is very comforting. Though, outside of treatment, finding suitable social interaction is not always easy. It depends on how many people I am in contact with and how much time they can offer. Screening for compatible personalities has been helpful too. If someone is unrealistically positive, I am not as comforted despite even their best intentions. Coping with suicide often involves intense negative emotions. The darker your self-expression, the less willing some people may be to communicate with you. It is beneficial to be mindful of religious acceptance of suicide as well. Sadly though, not everyone has someone to rely on when critical emotional support is needed most.
To adapt, I have to be considerate of my friends’ daily lives, such as family needs, hours of employment, and private time of their own. Plus, with more than one trusted support friend, I have found it helpful not to rely on the same person all the time. Doing this disperses the stress and can be of great benefit to them. The more accommodating I can be will strengthen the friendships and ensure I do not overwhelm anyone with my issues. Balancing my mental health with all this experience has allowed me to focus on being an advocate. Helping others like me is important because stigma keeps many from speaking out. I choose to go above and beyond so that fewer people put themselves at risk. Here are some thought-provoking observations.
Above all, the most common perception I have found is a widely accepted connection between prolonged depression and empathy. People who endure depression are more sensitive to emotions due to the nature of their suffering. Although I do agree, it is not just from my experiences with surviving suicide. At a young age, through mindful self-awareness, I recognized how negative emotions affected me. If I felt miserable from being bullied as a teenager, why would I want someone else to experience that? Not to mention, as a mature adult setting an example for others. I choose to prioritize how I treat people because I take hurtful emotions seriously. So, neither compassion nor empathy requires a life of suffering. Though just being courteous is often helpful and with minimal effort needed.
Likewise, the belief that a person displaying suicide symptoms may be a risk for violent behavior is false. In reality, the heightened sense of empathy makes many people less likely to be a threat. I can confirm this by sharing my history of non-violence, but I am not alone. Any reputable source can demonstrate the ratio of violent crime compared to the majority of the non-violent population. It is the responsibility of the person suffering to be mindful of their self-expression and actions. As someone who may be around them, you are equally responsible for your behavior too. Choosing to fear them without understanding their mental health is how stigma can thrive. A calm discussion to learn more can help resolve confusion and concerns.
Unfortunately, stigma makes communication more challenging because it can easily be awkward for many people. If in-person, someone may overhear and misunderstand what is said. On social media or by telephone, there is no way to judge another person's body language. Or, for example, with autism, sharing too much information can create unintentional problems even with people you may trust. Venting negative emotions is an important part of coping with such diagnoses as major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and more. I have personally experienced a problem with expressing myself during heightened stress. In two previous incidents, someone close to me has called a suicide hotline. After reflecting on what happened, in each case, I was not careful with what I said, and they over-reacted.
In reality, tragedies have occurred when people over-react and involve law enforcement. Had the police been prematurely called in either of my instances, it is permitted to force taking custody and transport to the hospital for evaluation. However, my parents would have endured an abrupt and highly stressful incident since I still lived with them at those times. My stress would have spiked even higher, probably destroying the mental stability that I diligently manage. There have been cases, such as Osaze Osagie, in which law enforcement intervention has caused tragic and preventable losses of life. Over-reacting due to stigma and starting intervention for someone you are not familiar with can put lives at risk. There are also issues with terminology.
Following publicized incidents of mass violence, I have witnessed people express their belief the person responsible is or must be mentally ill. First, not all information is known, disclosed, or accurately reported to the public immediately afterward. Investigations by law enforcement and psychiatric assessment take time to determine the facts and motivations. Assuming based on emotions ignores the truth. The suspect may not have any mental health symptoms directly responsible for their actions of violence. If they do, you would be ignoring the complexity of their mental health and any unique diagnoses involved. Although mental health and mental illness are interchangeable, misusing them as a stereotype only creates stigma. Doing so makes you more likely to misjudge people you care about, such as friends and family.
Similarly, repeated use of the term murder-suicide in news media reporting undermines critical awareness efforts. Non-violent suicides are instantly associated with traumatizing violent crimes such as mass shootings. Logic proves the term is no longer appropriate to use. A person does not kill another person to end their own life. In these cases, the purpose is to carry out homicide first. Therefore, aggressive behavior is a crucial difference. Keep in mind, empathy and non-violence are common of many who live with suicide symptoms. So, using an outdated term does more harm than good. A suitable alternative would be to use murder-aggressive-suicide. Not only is the trademark aggression identified in the term, but more people may ask what the difference is. Clarifying stigmatized mental health information is always beneficial.
Consistently, suicide losses are attributed to or suspected of being caused by mental health conditions. From experience, I know diagnoses such as depression do play a significant role. Reporting rhetoric discourages singling out one factor because of how complex suicide is. A wide range of factors can take months or years before leading up to a single active attempt. Contrary to this, I have observed and experienced external factors that escalate suicidal behavior in a matter of months or days. Although commonly disputed by some as a direct cause, the easiest trigger to recognize is intentional bullying. Two recent cases in my community stand out as decisive proof: a 12-year-old Junior High student and a 45-year-old businesswoman.
According to reported information, they were both victims of emotional mistreatment within months or days leading up to their respective attempts. The timing and influence of these incidents are undeniable. As an outsider, I do not have access to their mental health records. Neither should anyone assume they had underlying diagnoses to cause emotional instability. People are responsible for their actions and thus behavior as well. In cases of child abuse, whether or not the abuse results in death, the abusers are still held responsible. Instead, with cases involving bullying, accountability is placed on the deceased victims who succumbed because of their mistreatment. If someone takes their life as a direct result of emotional abuse, students and adults alike should be held accountable or deterred from abusive behavior.
Had the intentional bullying not occurred, both the student and businesswoman would likely still be alive today. This fact alone should void legal precedents protecting public school districts from student-upon-student bullying. Unfortunately, no one involved in the local cases was held accountable for their actions. As a result, the lack of prevention solves nothing. Worse yet, they were only two years apart. The year in between, as an adult myself, I endured bullying that pushed me to the brink of active suicidal behavior. Trusted and influential adults in the mental health community were responsible. One year later, the businesswoman’s suicide was a chilling wake-up call for what nearly happened to me. External factors, such as bullying, must be taken seriously. Without anyone to intervene, bullying-related suicides will claim more lives.
If you think someone you know is in crisis, do not be afraid to help. Many survivors of suicide express a hope that someone would have asked how they are feeling. Most already lack meaningful social interaction, genuine happiness, or a fulfilling purpose in their lives. Providing supportive contact and ensuring they are safe may be all that is needed, just use sound judgment. To keep from adding stress to the conversation speak calmly, and avoid expressing a need for intervention. Once they seem to be out of danger, ask if they have treatment options. A simple follow-up encouraging them to seek appropriate help will see most people through the worst of their ordeal. Being the person to ask if someone in crisis is okay can make a big difference.
Critically, a fact often overlooked by many is the significance of suicide survival stories. With firsthand experience from getting mine published, sharing what I have learned will reveal an essential truth about suicide prevention. Reporting guidelines recommend how to discuss the delicate information involved. These precautions are necessary to help people who have greater difficulty coping with suicide symptoms. I had never written a formal article about my survival experience before. To ensure it would be acceptable for publishing, I needed to abide by the guidelines as well. A recent adult diagnosis of autism added an extra challenge because I had to be careful about my self-expression. I followed my instincts and covered everything I could.
By concentrating on the guidelines, I realized there was honestly no need to discuss the method of my attempt. My survival story was safer to read. I also accomplished something incredibly important. I focused on what was going through my mind leading up to, during, and in the years after my experience. I was awestruck to tears. This information is what people need to understand why suicide happens in the first place. Mental health professionals can study it. Suicide prevention task forces should not ignore it. Youth Aevidum groups can adapt it to help the at-risk younger age groups. The general public will be able to understand it. Stigma does not stand a chance against objectively written firsthand accounts of what causes suicide behavior.
With proper guidance, survivors of many ages and backgrounds can legitimately improve suicide prevention. However, individually, survival stories are not taken seriously enough as primary source information. Suicide still creates anxiety and fear-driven stigma. People still cling to a status-quo that accepts suicide losses as the best anyone can do. Yet, there is no better resource than someone who has lived through this and survived. So, I decided to do something about it. I respect the journey that led me to be who I am today. And I will never stop caring because you are why I am still here. Check out my Jan. 2020 TWLOHA Blog today. Share my courage to help change the fate of suicide now, when this life matters most.
Finally, and perhaps the most helpful fact of all can be realized just by looking at today. Suicidality does not mean a person will not live to old age. Many people do cope with and recover from even the most harrowing experiences. Consider Kevin Hines, who suffered significant physical injuries yet has become an international success story and a positive force for suicide prevention. I also consider myself living proof. At the time of this writing, my first active experience with suicide was seventeen years ago. Seventeen years, despite having sought full diagnosis and treatment only in October 2018. Each day still holds realistic hope for finding happiness and achieving a positive recovery. Give yourself, and tomorrow a chance.
(inspired by the Penn State chant)
© 2020 Jim R. Irion.
My article is protected under Fair Use copyright law.
Formal publishers must contact me first.
This body of writing also serves as professional presentation material (approx. 24 minutes). Interested parties should contact me right away to make arrangements at no cost or charge.
About The Author:
I am a two-time Pennsylvania State University graduate and mental health advocate with over ten years of dedicated community service volunteering. My primary focuses are suicide prevention, anti-bullying and empowerment. Currently, I am a NAMI member trained as an In Our Own Voice presenter. I also have QPR Gatekeeper layperson suicide prevention training.
Be sure to check out my writing today.
|Posted on November 15, 2019 at 1:00 AM||comments (0)|
When is a song more than just a song?
When does a simple composition of words or rhythms define something more than just sound? Through the power of inspiration, a song can become much more than the sum of its parts. Words, thoughts, and ideas expressed in lyrical music are capable of inspiring us for all sorts of reasons. Music has also been a central part of human culture throughout recorded history. So, a single song can be incredibly empowering if you identify with and like what you hear.
Losing someone you care about is deeply traumatic in much the same way as music is fundamentally inspirational. Certain tragedies are easier to place blame. Suicide, however, is frequently misunderstood. Why not stay to see what life has in store, or wait for the next person to say hello? That is if you are fortunate to cross paths with someone who is not afraid to care or help. How can you consider harming yourself if surrounded by people who care about you? Whether or not a note is left behind, the only legitimate experience about what motivates and impairs a victim's judgment are stigmatized attempt survivors.
Suicide is difficult to cope with because the losses are also entirely preventable. We are forced to look within ourselves for answers. Was it my fault? Did I miss the signs? Did I not love or care about them enough? Was it something I said? Such conflicted guilt can trigger additional suicides. Hence, how the pain of one is passed on to another. With so many unanswered and difficult questions about suicide attempts, those who survive have had to face a fearful society. Many survivors have little choice but to keep their experiences to themselves.
Even though the majority of suicides do not involve violence to others, stigma still keeps victims and survivors from being well understood. This includes potential discrimination from members of the community, volunteers, national non-profit organization Board members, and the very people on suicide prevention task forces responsible for saving lives. If an attempt survivor is still struggling, but needs to talk to someone about their feelings, who should be called is often a greater priority than considering their input or consent. As well, certain religions regard suicide as an unforgivable sin.
Suicide can affect us in very fundamental ways.
I know from bitter experience, because I am both a loss and attempt survivor. I also consider myself very fortunate to have had the inner strength to endure and write about my experiences in positive ways. My selfless desire to heal such difficult emotional wounds is a responsibility I take seriously for all the lives at stake. After three years of being a mental health advocate, I now consider my destiny to confront fear - the fear of death - and to light the way back from attempting suicide so others can discover the truth about life. This life is precious and so should ours be.
Through the years, one of the best ways I have found remarkable strength is from listening to various forms of music. Whether instrumental or lyrical, music can invoke powerful emotions within each of us because it has been a part of our culture for generations. Music can also be written to reflect personal life experiences and tragedies of all kinds. Imagine expressing something, as deeply conflicted and emotional as suicide, in music with the capacity to inspire so unreservedly.
During mid-October, I was fortunate to connect with a talented singer and songwriter who tragically had lost her former boyfriend to suicide last year. Ms. Katie Hargreaves, an aspiring musician, artist and actress from the UK, used her skills as a songwriter to pen a passionate song in hopes of encouraging him not to give up. As powerful as any of the words are that a person could use, Ms. Hargreaves named her song "Stay". I can think of no simpler or more transcendent expression, in a song that sounds so sweet, for someone suffering from severe depression to hear.
Released on none other than my 38th birthday, October 10, 2019, the lyrics for "Stay" are as compelling as Ms. Hargreaves' beautifully resonant voice. Once she connected with me and shared her story, the song name and origin alone brought me to tears before I even had a chance to listen to it. The fact that someone not only had the talent, but also the courage to express their hope in a form as moving as music was simply overwhelming. Neither of us could have ever imagined getting to know one another with so many miles between us. Yet, we connected so deeply through a single song and shared life experiences.
This inspiration will last a lifetime.
Ms. Hargreaves has been very hard at work with the November 8th release of her latest song, "Interlude", as well as more music to come. I would like to express my dearest respect to Ms. Hargreaves, as well as everyone in her production team, for working together to make the magic of hopeful inspiration come alive through the power of music.
A song is more than just a song when it reflects the human condition, and touches the hearts and souls of those who hear it. One person can save lives the same as a single song can move mountains within us. To take a single word of hope, as pure as to stay, conveys what I humbly believe everyone struggling in life deserves to hear and believe in. "But if you stay, I will be waiting, I will wait here." Amen.
Be sure to check out Theta's inspiring music today.
"Stay", released 10.10.2019
"Interlude", released 11.8.2019
Full EP will be out early 2020. Follow on music & social platforms to keep updated!
Producer: Shai-li Paldi
|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 April 22, 2018 at 1:00 AM||comments (0)|
Welcome again and thank you so kindly for joining me on one final blog before the film, Avengers: Infinity War, hits theaters worldwide. Allow me to provide you with a helpful link back to the beginning of the mid-March blog series, the first nine of which were inspired by the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
March 11th, 2018:
So, that blog series was quite an expression of passion, wasn't it? While some people might not be used to such intensity, one of the goals I set out to accomplish was to document mental health and mine as well. Sometimes that will involve being more realistic than other times. I do mean well. Either way, I always try to make sure I incorporate an honest and positive point of view to bring what I talk about back to a productive, mindful balance. I hope anyone else who may read that blog series, especially Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) fans, can take away as much of a powerful inspiration as I did while I was writing it. As well, I want to thank all of you who have joined me along my journey, this year, through my own war for emotional resolution...
Though, I must caution you that this blog post is very powerful with peak inspirational intensity too.
Now that more of you know how I have been feeling lately, and with the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War just days away, I couldn't help but write one final blog post with the film's intense inspiration at heart.
There was actually one, even more compelling, point of view I did not think to share until just a few days ago. For the last year and a half, I have embarked on a path of challenging self-discovery. Back in October of 2016, I did not and could not believe I would be here right now in any positive way other than I would give it my best shot. I would give all of you all I've got... Yet, here I am. Still. As I revealed during the mid-March blog series, when I made the conscious decisions to begin advocating for mental health and to share my story through this website I also had a second powerful, but dark influence. Desperation. On the other hand, I have now come to realize something new; something which may yet become really quite special. The answer lies in what it now means for me to be an advocate, thanks in large part to Marvel's Avengers.
“There was an idea...” Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Fury.
“To bring together, a group of remarkable people...” Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark.
“To see if we could become something more...” Paul Bettany, Vision.
“So when they needed us, we could fight the battles...” Chris Hemsworth, Thor.
“That they never could.” Scarlett Johansson, Natasha Romanoff (Avengers: Infinity War trailer #2).
A group of remarkable people... Who? Me? No way. You can't honestly mean me as a remarkable person? All self-depreciating humor aside though, I do prefer to defy the labels that society tries to brand me with. I even end up doing it no thanks to my habits related to anxiety. For example, I often feel I get the distinction of being the nice guy when it came to dating (notice the past tense). Then, over time, I realized this label seemed to give women the impression that a nice guy was instinctively unattractive, awkward, and over-complimentary when it came to how they treated women. In a very real sense, it is a form of social stigma and I ended up with the label. This was where I came up with my mantra that I am me, which was my way to defy the social label of being a 'stereotypical' nice guy.
Unfortunately, beneath much of my self-confidence always lurks social anxiety that challenges what kind of a person I feel I really am. While yes, I do also practice mindfulness and modesty to keep any over-confidence in check. Most of the time, however, I never really see myself as positive qualities such as being a remarkable person. But ever so slowly that is changing as I restore my self-confidence through improving my mental health. By putting myself out there, on the line, and advocating for mental health awareness, I also unwittingly began to think of myself as a sort of heroic figure. How could I if social anxiety often makes it so difficult? The notion of heroism all came together when the second Avengers: Infinity War trailer was released, and I kept watching it over and over.
The (original) quote, by the character Nick Fury, talks about bringing together a group of remarkable people who eventually would become the Avengers superheroes. On the other hand, the key heroes in the first Avengers film: Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Thor, Clint Barton, and Natasha Romanoff, were all portrayed as being nothing short of a disaster waiting to happen. Then, through the film, they found themselves within their struggles and matured to become the remarkable heroes who were needed. The heroes, who will be portrayed sacrificing everything to stand up to Thanos and his Black Order during the Infinity War film. The simple fact that they, and the other heroes since, have effectively been portrayed realistically is what makes all the difference.
Without being shown as realistic, the Avengers would not be nearly as identifiable to people like me in the first place. But because they are, by March of this year I not only began to see myself as heroic like them I also started to wonder what if I could mirror the Avengers in real life somehow? What if someday I could help to create a gathering of mental health advocates? A sort of Advocate-con or Mental Health Advocates Conference. In a way, to bring together a unique group of truly remarkable real-world people who, on a daily basis, responsibly put themselves on the line to advance the cause of mental health awareness. It sure does seem just like the Avengers from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, doesn't it? Indeed.
In my words, as I think out loud here...
“The (Advocates). It’s what we (could) call ourselves, sort of like a team. 'Earth’s Mightiest Volunteers' type thing... There’s no throne. There is no version of this where (social stigma) comes out on top. Maybe (the bullies) come, and maybe it’s too much for us, but it’s all (about fear). Because if we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we’ll (still advocate for) it.”
(inspired by Robert Downey Jr.’s words, as Tony Stark, in the 2012 Avengers film).
Oh, how I would LOVE to create something like a mental health Advocates-con... Or even The Advocates; a gathering of heroic volunteers. To bring together people like Kevin Hines and Lindsey Smith. To share with ourselves the experiences we have endured and show the world that regular, ordinary people through their own hard work can act as real-world heroes every day and any day. To show that it doesn't matter who you are or what hardships you have been through, you can still beat the odds. Now that is something worth living and fighting for! Perhaps someday I can help to bring together such a remarkable group of people so that while we are needed, we can continue to fight the battles that others never could. Either way, I still have the MCU Avengers to thank for my new inspiration to be a hero.
“(I am odd, but we knew that already. Lol)
(Humans) think order and chaos are somehow opposites and try to control what won't be.
But there is grace in their failings...
A thing isn't beautiful because it lasts.
It is a privilege to be among them.” Paul Bettany, Vision (Avengers: Age Of Ultron).
I have been and always will be privileged to be among people like You. Now, I leave all of you with one final moment to keep in mind before Thanos' arrival, as according to the latest Avengers: Infinity War 'Chant' TV Spot trailer...
“Today we don't fight for any life... we fight for ALL of them.” Chadwick Boseman, T'Challa.
Indeed; as do I.
I fight for all of You. May we all find the same strength and courage to stand up to the oppression and stigma that influences, like Thanos, represent in all our lives.
We will do this, together.
“I look around at us and you know what I see? Folks who have lost stuff. Our homes... Our families... Normal lives. And usually life takes more than it gives, but not today. Today it's giving us something. It is giving us a chance... To give a s***.
The brutality, the sacrifice, it changes you.
I had this dream... that I was an Avenger.
I shouldn't be alive... unless it was for a reason. I just finally know what I have to do.
My faith's in people, I guess. And I'm happy to say that, for the most part, they haven't let me down. Which is why I can't let them down either. I promise you, if you need us, if you need me, I'll be there.
Then we'll do that together too. As a team.
There was an idea...
to bring together a group of remarkable people...
to see if we could become something more.
So when they needed us...
we could fight the battles...
that they never could.
It doesn't matter what you did; what you were...
You are an AVENGER.”
(from the MCU Supercut - The Road To Infinity War trailer uploaded by MCUExchange on YouTube).
April 22nd, 2019:
|Posted on April 21, 2018 at 1:10 AM||comments (0)|
Before I share another regular blog post, I wanted to talk about my experience participating and volunteering at a very recent community event which I had not mentioned previously. Since it turned out to be a particularly positive experience for me, I hope that by taking this opportunity to share it with all of you will make it extra special to read about.
On Thursday April 19th, hosted by the Lakemont Casino, I attended NAMI PA Blair County's annual Recovery Conference of which this year I was a Gold-level Sponsor. I tip my hat to my fellow Conference Planning Committee members, all the volunteers, and participants who made this delightfully inspiring Conference to go so well this year.
The key note speaker Ms. Lindsey Smith, affectionately known as the Food Mood Girl, gave a most energizing presentation on how food can and does relate most directly to a person's mental health. Although I was not as invested beforehand in the presentation because of the food theme, I must say I was very pleased with how it actually turned out. Ms. Smith began by sharing her heartfelt experiences of when mental health symptoms first emerged during her youth. Since I have already discovered so much about my own early symptoms, I was immediately drawn in for being able to relate so closly to what she had experienced. I was hooked. Ms. Smith then talked about the history of over a decade that she had spent developing her food mood concepts in great detail. I almost couldn't help myself when I realized just how she had come to all of her conclusions.
Ms. Smith shared a memory of attending a nutrition conference in which she ended up being the only one to order soup, rather than a salad, before the meals were served. She was able to take those brief few moments, reflect on them with the rest of us, and explain how she was able to realize that social stigma actually influenced what took place when she ordered the soup instead. Plus, this also served as an excellent example when faced with even minor stigma to show how she was able to stick to her food mood concepts and keep herself in balance. The truly sensible and intriguing nature of how mindfulness played a major part in what Ms. Smith had discovered with food, as well as cravings, being related to a person's mental health and moods, turned out to be an eye opening experience for me.
Thank you so kindly, Ms. Smith, for joining us at the Conference to give such an inspiring presentation.
On the other hand, a particular presentation that preceded Ms. Smith's actually gave me a rousing wake-up call which may or may not turn out to be important in the weeks ahead. While I am in the midst of career planning with the PA Blair County CareerLink, first initiated by the local Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), I have yet to progress far enough to discover possible careers to pursue. So, my mind has been tediously searching for answers. Answers, in fact, to the single-most difficult mental health dilemma of my entire life: career anxiety and indecision. This issue has single-handedly prevented the majority of my adult development into financial independence as well as emotional stability. Though, not for a lack of my effort to try in the eighteen years since I graduated high school.
The presentation in question was by Skills of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. Their program involved psychiatric rehabilitation and a very innovative approach to use six word memoirs with the individuals involved. Three of the program participants had attended to share each of their own memoirs, and I must say that they each tugged at my heart strings. While they were sharing their memoirs though, I realized something very important. On a basic level, they were being encouraged through utilizing words to express themselves in ways that positively improved their mental health. They were also doing this with only six words so that anyone could make positive progress by starting with just a single word. I thought to myself... Well, what was I doing already for this past year and a half? Aha!
Allow me to share the six word memoir I came up with and shared aloud during the presentation, which is inspired by Marvel's Captain America: "I can do this all day".
While I obviously haven't been sharing my collective story in only six words, I am very skilled to do exactly what they were doing. I have a way with words. They have a way with words, too. Now, I had known about the program early last year thanks to fellow co-volunteer, NAMI PA Blair County Board member, and community volunteer, Pam Townsend. But I hadn't seen it in action until this Conference. What a difference is made by giving such an event like this a chance - and - to learn things about both food as well as with words that I did not realize before. This is definitely a feel-good moment. Let me also tell you that, because of my career anxiety, it has been very rare for me to experience a genuine moment of career inspiration. Therefore, even rarer than that has such an inspiration actually lead to a productive career choice.
Well... not even rarer.
So, as I progress both through career planning, as well as checking in to this Six Word Memoir psychiatric rehab program with Skills, what was once an uncertain next few months may in fact turn into something more. Now, allow me to share what may someday be a future six word memoir, for the Skills program participants if you are reading this, and a potential motto for me if this particular career pursuit becomes a hopeful success: "Life. Six words at a time."
For now, though, there still is one final moment of clarity before we reach a... Marvel-ous... moment on April 27th. Tune in tomorrow to find out more.
|Posted on October 11, 2017 at 1:15 AM||comments (0)|
I know I often shy away from references of looking forward in time, but at least this past year has been a step towards a positive direction that I could not conceive of at this time last year. Believe me; the alternative to all of this volunteering would not have had me end up in nearly as positive place at all... So, I am not out of the woods yet.
The largest gains have been with exploring and expanding upon my community service volunteer ambitions stemming from volunteering on behalf of Penn State from 2008 through until 2015. Now, I have been able to discover and make goals of reaching out to people and have made progress towards achieving those ends. I served on the NAMI PA Blair County 2016 Recovery Conference Planning committee by which my suggestion for the theme "Find Your Voice" was chosen as well. I would like to make a special mention of fellow co-volunteers Ken Dean, of the Department of Social Services, for his truly inspiring contributions as well as wonderful personality to volunteer with and Crystal Walton for being an inspiring person to look up to for strength and courage. My kindest thanks especially to the committee members for being such a warmly welcoming group of people not only to consider my suggestions for the conference but accepting me into your volunteer groups as well.
The "Find Your Voice" Conference was also the very first time I realized just how I have been able to make it this far with my mental health being stigmatized as much as it was for over twenty years. For years I had anxiously been afraid of figuring out how I was able to persist thinking that I would unravel if I discovered the how and why. Now I know why: (Informal) Mindfulness. I owe this discovery to the local Department of Veterans Affairs crew who gave a most enlightening presentation at the conference. I also owe a debt of gratitude to keynote speaker Elisha Coffey, of Mental Health Partnerships.
She was the first to seek me out both to get a take on my mental health experiences but also to know more about my website endeavors. I truly felt like a celebrity in a way that conveyed a lasting measure of importance amongst millions with mental health issues. Thank you so much, Elisha. I may yet need to thank you further for your referral to People First creator and editor, Susan Rogers. Even though the state budget still remains at an impasse holding up the opportunity to write for your publication, just being considered for such a meaningful chance to reach out to people is still something I appreciate for what it is worth. Thank you and I hope to have the opportunity to write for you in the future.
In May I also made my first ever (and definitely not my last) public presentation about my mental health experiences as a Presenter at our local May Is Mental Health Month Conference. Although the attendance left me desiring more, the experiences and people I met at this event plus to tell my story for the first time will always be a milestone close to my heart. The mother and son, whom had similar diagnoses and experiences as I had but have not been in contact with them since then, gave me hope that a parent could be supportive of these kinds of issues. A fellow co-volunteer approached me after one of the presentation segments and gave me a personal boost of positive encouragement that I am not often able to find from someone of similar age to me. It may have only been a sentence or two of a connection that she offered to me, but I thank you just the same.
I also had a lovely elderly woman approach me after my first presentation who thanked me so kindly for what I had so say. I felt that she also appreciated my take on finding the old fashioned true love kind of companionship that the best marriages used to create the kinds of elderly couples one might see walking together and holding hands so firmly. I had never expected to connect with someone that much older than me, but make no mistake every connection with another person has been near and dear to my heart. Although my mother could not make it to attend, I do have to tip my hat to my father for attending the presentation as well. It is not easy for a parent unaccustomed to dealing with mental health issues to adjust, but at least he took the time and effort to be there for me. Thank you as well.
At the end of June, I managed to finish the rough draft of my fiction manuscript tentatively entitled, "Just Before the Dawn" Volume One. Although it lacks monologue and dialogue, the efforts I expended to create the six mental health themed short stories should in the near future if published really warm the hearts of many people. I just need to figure out what to do about lacking those two essential elements as I have not the skills or remaining temperament to push my writing skills much further. Despite this concerning setback, I intend to pursue getting it published with all my heart as well as plans for a Volume Two in the future. Along with this has been the concept for a single fiction story, entitled "Grace", which I also hope to write and publish somehow too.
In September I attended my fourth ever American Foundation for Suicide Prevention "Out Of The Darkness" Walk and I must say it was an inspiring experience. Easily twice as many people as either of the walks I'd attended during 2010, 2011, or 2013. Or it felt as if there were just so many people of positive and heartwarming compassion in attendance anyway. I met the mother and father of Wyatt, a local teenager who had taken his own life, and found renewed hope for my own ongoing experience with suicide. They turned out to be wonderful people with the biggest hearts to have had the misfortune of losing their son to such tragedy.. Even though I am obviously not your son, I hope someday I can make you proud for the suicides I prevent in the years to come.
Perhaps most importantly of all was in mid-September to also take and complete NAMI's "In Our Own Voice" Presenter training. First though, I have to tip my hat again to Susan Caban and Laura Thomas (trainers) as well as all the trainees for a most wonderful and inspiring experience. I hope we meet and have the opportunity to work with each other again many times in the future. Currently, I am awaiting approval of my revised presentation segments after which I will be ready to give my first co-presentation. I am also waiting to discuss with our NAMI Affiliate representatives suggestions about who to pursue offering this presentation for in hopes of reaching as many people of the public as possible. Not ideas too grand mind you. Just ambitions to begin changing the world one speech at a time.
On the other hand, two key areas of development have been stalling for much of this year due to several reasons. First, my mental health recovery hit snags from anxiety and the challenges of figuring out what treatment I need to pursue. Though, I am close to finding an affordable option for psychiatric evaluation so that I can get my mental health symptoms "Officially" diagnosed. When those results are determined, do expect me to share them here for everyone - including the doubters - to see. Once diagnosed, I will have options then for additional treatment as well as vocational rehabilitation to resolve the single most important goal: career employment.
Yes, I am still unemployed. No, I am not lazy and I detest anyone who unwaveringly believes otherwise. I have had to deal with stigma barring me from improving my mental health for years. I will no longer be subjected to influences who or what would rather have me remain voiceless, silent, or taking a back seat to someone else. One year ago today I made the decision to face my mental health or consider the beginnings of giving up for a third and final time. So make no mistake how or why suicide still lurks in my shadow as I move forward into next year. Due to my chronophobia, all these years since that summer of 1994 I have only been able to foresee my life one day, one week, or one month ahead...
It has been like feeling as if I couldn't even guarantee I would still be alive after the month ahead as I have to deal with now. Yet, I am of decent physical health. Few people know what that is like and there is a long line of others who either fear me or feel that because of the car I drive or where my parents live that I am not to be considered amongst those that are my peers.
This guy found his voice and in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead I intend to put up the toughest fight against the rigors of my mental health so that I can find the happiness and purpose of my life that forever has felt non-existent. I don't care what it takes. I will help to open the world's eyes to the true suffering of those who have been through suicide and I will not rest until lives are inspired to live. I know how ambitious that sounds but if you were in my position you would know exactly how "this" feels. I also realize my burn out and recent silence may be troubling to some who know me. It is not as easy as it seems to be a voice for so many people as to be an advocate for mental health awareness. Thank you for still bearing with me with your thoughts and prayers.
Time to change the world and make my own future.
Updates on People First and "In Our Own Voice" as they come. Thank you for following along.
And lastly but certainly not least, happy 96th birthday Grandpa Irion. You went to be with the Lord back in March of 2008 and I have missed your heartwarming personality ever since. I hope you and the other relatives who are with you there have been proud of my efforts this past year. Though I know I have a lot to learn and a long way to go just for my mental health recovery, as well as reclamation of my future, rest assured I intend to help as many people in this life as I can. Bless your heart, young man.