Friday, October 30, 2009

"I would lie awake most of the night, terrified by what was happening to me."

TJ, age 60. Iowa.

"When I went away to college in 1967, I was going to save the world. I was not even able to save myself.

I had always been a fearful and anxious child. Extremely shy, I often wished to become invisible. The pinnacle of agony and self-consciousness came when I was called on in class, or was required to make a speech. I was having anxiety attacks, but only in certain situations, and never recognized them for what they were.

Away from home and living in a college dorm, I felt lost and alone. The campus was huge, classes were overcrowded, and I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I grew more anxious and homesick every day.

While in a crowded classroom, I had my first full-blown panic attack. With my heart pounding and feeling nauseated, I got up, left, and returned to the dorm. This was repeated over and over, with each episode increasing in intensity. Finally I was no longer able to go down to the dining hall to eat. I would lie awake most of the night, terrified by what was happening to me. Soon I left school, and spent the next three years or so in and out of hospitals, seeing therapists, and otherwise housebound.

As time passed I lost all hope of finding relief and sank deeper into depression. I started cutting myself just to feel alive and in control of something. No one understood. I had several therapists, none of whom ever really explained what was happening to me. One day, I came across an article that mentioned a book by Claire Weeks -- Hope and Help for your Nerves. It was a turning point for me. Not only was I not crazy, I had an identifiable disorder that many other people had, too. This finally gave me hope that I could recover from this and be myself again.

I have had periods of stability, and relapses. But I know now that the panic will pass. Depression, anxiety's evil sister, has been harder to overcome. It is still too easy to slip into darkness after a bad experience or hurtful exchange. With therapy and medication, I am working on that.

But you can find yourself again -- don't stop trying."

"There are people out there who are just like you and me."

Meaghan, age 18. Brooklyn, NY.

"Have you ever tried to describe what a panic attack feels like to someone who’s never had one before? It’s a bunch of conflicting physical and emotional reactions that only other people with them could understand. How could someone be perfectly fine on the subway or in an airplane, but be paralyzed in fear in a shopping mall? I could never quite answer those questions myself. My attacks are very few and far between, but when they hit, they’re crippling. The thought of them always lingers in the back of my mind. I wonder, “Is today going to be the day?” The feelings are so spur of the moment; you can’t help but think of it on occasion. I’ve been told to ignore the fear and anxiety, but it’s impossible to do when all that’s on your mind is the idea of escaping the situation you’re in.

No one has ever been able to fully comprehend what it’s like to go through an attack. That is, until I read I Don’t Want to be Crazy. Someone was going through the same thing I was. A person actually understood what I was going through. I think that’s all I’ve wanted. When I told my doctor about it, she said, “Don’t worry. You can get help for this.” Those were the greatest eight words I could hear at the time. I remember I was so happy and relieved at the time, I ended up crying in the doctor’s office.

Have I gotten a list of therapists? Yes. Have I made an appointment with them? No. I don’t think my parents wanted to fully accept the fact that their daughter could be placed on Klonopin or Paxil to control herself when she’s out in public. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t resent them. Maybe I wasn’t ready to accept the fact that panic disorder could happen to me too. They’ve comforted me; they just have a hard time realizing how panic attacks can truly hurt when they do occur.

That’s why I’m truly excited that this blog has been created, so others can see that there are people out there who are just like you and me.

Stay strong everyone. Xoxo"

"There were times when I would just stare at the mirror and could not believe I was looking at myself."

Emily, age 18. Georgia.

"I blame my doctor for ruining my life. Rationally, I know it's not his fault, but I need someone to blame for my anxiety. I was sixteen. I was a junior in high school and I wanted to die. Everyday I would force myself to go to school, only to sit in the bathroom for long periods of time, waiting for my lungs to breathe, my heart to stop pounding and my body to stop sweating. I would come home only to collapse and sleep for hours. When my mother took me to the doctor, I didn't want to tell him what was happening to me. To me, my anxiety was a sign of weakness, a flaw in my otherwise perfect world. He told me I was depressed, prescribed me some Prozac, and moved on to the next patient. He didn't care that inside I was screaming just as loud as the baby in the next room. No one cared. I was all alone, fighting a war against nothing, and losing.

When my senior year began, I had already been on several different medications including Xanax. For most seniors at my high school, this was the best year of their lives. For me, it was torture. I couldn't force myself to get up and go to school anymore, I was so exhausted all the time. There were times when I would go for the last thirty minutes of the day just so I wouldn't fall too far behind. I begged to be homebound, a program that allows those who are sick or unable to go to school to work from home, but my doctor would not sign the papers. I spent the next few months trying to convince him that I would be better if I could just stay at home. Nothing changed his mind. So I would go to school and sob in the bathroom, call my mom at work and tell her how much I wanted to die. I missed sixty four days of my senior year before he told my mom to take me to the hospital pysch ward.

They admitted me over a weekend in March. I still cannot talk about how much I hated being there, withdrawing from my favorite addiction, my Xanax, feeling actually crazy for the first time. I am so mad that no one would help me, just stick me in a hospital and ask me the stupidest questions in front of pretentious college doctors. After my hospital stay, nothing changed except my doctor finally allowed me to be homebound. I still felt myself being sucked away into nothing.
I graduated. I was done. I still had depression and I still hated myself. There were times when I would just stare at the mirror and could not believe I was looking at myself. This wasn't me. I was not the girl who was looking back at me. She was killing me, slowly but surely. I didn't trust myself.
It's been six months since then and I can honestly say I feel the best I've felt in years. I'm finally happy and I don't know why. I'm not in college and I still live at home. My days consist of planning for the future. But I feel good. I introduced myself to my therapist yesterday, even though I've been seeing her since March. The reason? She had never met the real me. This is who I am. Not the girl who let her anxiety and depression control her. So, hello, I'm Emily. I still struggle with my anxiety and depression, but now I have something I didn't have before. Hope."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"I came to realize that no matter how much I tried I couldn’t control everything that was going on around me, and I could only control myself."

Sarah, age 23. Indiana.

"My story is always the hardest one to start. I had to work through more stresses than a lot of young teenagers do, but from reading other peoples stories I learned that things could have been much worse. At eleven years old my older brother was murdered, and it was something we didn’t expect at all. He was 22 and doing a lot of partying, and someone who had done drugs came into his house and freaked out. The night that it happened my parents got a call to come identify him, and left without telling any of us. Somehow I knew, and told my sister that is was him. Four months later my Dad got extremely sick. He has emphysema and COPD, with are like having asthma and constant bronchitis together, he describes it as feeling like you’re breathing through a coffee mixer. One night he just couldn’t breathe well at all and was having constant asthma attacks, and my mom finally convinced him to let her call the ambulance. When they finally got him to the hospital, his heart had stopped once. It stopped again while he was in surgery. They found that he had a large mass in his left lung and removed it, and later we found out it wasn’t cancerous thankfully.

I had to fight myself not to withdraw completely after this. I began cutting myself in order to deal with the stress. It was a release, and a way for me to control the way I hurt. I literally hid my issues inside myself for years. Then something happened that is still hard to speak about, and I really haven’t. When I was 14 I was date raped, and that is how I lost my virginity. It made me feel disgusting, and all the pressure inside of me couldn’t be held in anymore. At that point the people around me started to see that I was falling apart. Anywhere on my body that could be covered with clothes was cut, I started pulling my hair out to deal with being in school. I would function in school but not remember hours of it, and truthfully now I don’t remember most of that time. I ended up in the hospital from trying to kill myself.

I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and severe depression, I started on medication but after months on it I found it to be no help. After being in the hospital I dropped out of high school and started homeschooling. I tried to go back the next year, but ended up with health problems and having to have two surgeries, and dropped out again. At 16 I decided I didn’t want to end up living with my parents forever, so I did something about it. I went and got my GED. I spent time on myself. I did anything I wanted to, and kept myself happy. Anytime I did feel depressed again I fought the urge to cut myself. After awhile I came to realize that no matter how much I tried I couldn’t control everything that was going on around me, and I could only control myself. I had a lot of anger, and I realized holding it in was promoting to my problems, so I didn’t hold it in. Anytime someone pissed me off I let them know, I would think it was probably hard to live with me but it’s what I needed.

I’m 23 now, and I’m going to graduate from college next year. I have a 2 year old daughter, Delilah, and she’s amazing. Every day is no longer a struggle, but I wouldn’t say I’m completely rid of it. I still battle anti-social tendencies and depression. The hormonal roller coaster during pregnancy really affected me and I toyed with the idea of cutting. But, now that I’m stronger I saw that it was an issue and told my doctor and he put me in counseling. What I believe is that everything I have dealt with in my life has made me stronger. I believe that I will be a much better mother to my daughter because of the pain I went through."

"The doctors say it's a genetic thing but it feels more like an abnormality."

Leslie Ann, age 16. Chicago.

"I wake up. After getting dressed, I remind my self take your meds. Without them I know I'll struggle to focus and keep my emotions straight. In the class, talking, but all I hear are words rumbling through my mind, moving too fast for me to comprehend. I can't understand what's going on. I can't sit straight, without movement. I need to move, walk around or I'll break lose, out of control. The doctors say it's a genetic thing but it feels more like an abnormality and that no one understands the struggle I go through, a curse. Having ADD, and Bipolar disorder. Depression hits me with everyday topics, divorce, broken families, things that I have had to face everyday. When does it get easier? Why is this happening to me? How come I can't function like other people? What's wrong with me? Why am I cursed with this disability? These are the questions I used to ask myself before everything became clear.

It's not a curse or an abnormality. You are just as equal as anybody else is, I just function differently. I am who I am and nobody can say or do anything that will make me think different about myself."

"I look at his eyes and wonder what he sees. Is it obvious that I'm sick?"

Lyn, age 29. Virginia.

"The words below are, for the most part, an excerpt from my journal. I wrote it more than a year after it happened, but even now I remember like it was yesterday. In May of 2007, I had an anxiety attack that lasted three days. I hadn't slept. By day three, I had reached a state of psychosis. This isn't my first "episode." I have post-traumatic stress disorder. All it takes for me to "lose it" is a great amount of stress and something that triggers a new traumatic memory. What happens next feels like a tornado in my mind. The tornado only lasts three days before I end up in the psych ward, sedated out of consciousness. The following excerpt is after waking from the sedatives to wander the halls of my new temporary home. This is my first time at this particular psych ward.

Mercy Hospital, May 2007:

"Is this your first time here?" he asks.

My groggy eyes feel heavy and dysfunctional as they scan my surroundings. Long, bare hallway. Doors to patients' rooms lining either side. Fishbowl-like window at the end for nurses to keep a watch on us, safe behind the glass. Locked doors that have labels: Linens, Court Room, Meeting Room 1, Meeting Room 2, Activities Room, Isolation. A locked display case on one wall lists the daily schedule:
7:30 - 8 am: Vitals
8 - 8:30 am: Morning Group Meeting
8:30 - 9 am: Breakfast
9 - 9:30 am: Meds
9:30 - 10 am: Group Therapy
12 - 12:30 pm: Lunch
...and so on.

My eyes veer back to the attending nurse. I look at his eyes and wonder what he sees. Is it obvious that I'm sick? Can he tell how sick I am? Do I look like I've been here before?
It must be a trick question.
"You mean here?" I ask as I point to the floor of the psych ward, "or here?" and I point toward the tornado still whirling in my brain."

"Will I be me again?"

From David O., age 30. New York City.

"I think today it's been more or less a year since I first asked Dr. -- for Adderall. It seems like since then I've been under the uninterrupted influence of that drug as well as others, the ones that help stabilize me when the amphetamine high begins to wear off and I need something to cushion the blow: Uppers and downers punching in and out, exchanging pleasantries between shifts.

How did things work before this arrangement? My brain had a chemistry uniquely its own, and, while not perfect, it was 100% me: my hormones, my neurotransmitters activating my synapses, working according to plans prepared in-house. The drugs enter like management consultants: "Not so much of that hormone, give him a little more of this one and maybe earlier in the day so as not to keep him up all night. You've got vast reserves of serotonin and dopamine, why are they just sitting there? Put your resources to work!"

Sooner or later it begins to feel like I've outsourced my whole personality. The drugs have altered the machinery in my brain to suit their own purposes. What would happen if I stopped taking them? Without their aid, who or what would run this drastically modified equipment in my head? Will I be me again?"

"'s an awful thing. It really does change your life."

From anonymous.

"I'm not going to share my story....because anxiety left me paranoid to death about safety. But I will say this, no matter how weird your symptoms are, you are NOT crazy. This comes from the person who would drip sweat. I don't mean dripping sweat from my pits, but from my whole body. My back and chest would be so sweaty during an attack, that there would be sweat stains in my stomach.

I have yet to find a person who has attacks like me. Attacks that consist of sweat, hot flashes, fear of going crazy, and a little out of breath. (I have what they call limited symptom attacks where instead of having a variety of signs of anxiety, I get 3-4 intense signs. Sounds better than a regular attack, but it's just as bad.)

And you know what? I don't care anymore, but no matter how weird and bizarre our attacks are, we all have one thing in common.....recovery. We all have similar or the same recovery steps. So don't get all worked up because you feel alone with your attacks. Think about how many people are trying to recover with you. We all work on the same positive thinking and meditation. You are not alone, there are many people who are trying to recover just like you.
Tell yourself "bring it on" when your attack comes.

When it comes, pretend you are shaking it's hand. In your head, ask your attack how it is doing. What it is up to. The curious is not nervous it is curious.
Think about how much stronger you are, even if you are not fully recovered. You could still be having issues with anxiety, but dealing with them makes you stronger than almost all of your friends.

Carry things that bring happiness with you. They can be as normal as water and as weird as a piece of your baby blanket.
Communicate with people you trust.
For the religious, pray! It helps, it really does.
God bless all of you."

"I am above my illness. I am so much more than what is holding me back."

From Paige K., age 15. Pennsylvania.

"I was diagnosed with panic disorder without agoraphobia during my 8th grade year. The attacks that I was experiencing put me in a state of total fear. I couldn’t breathe, see or move. My body would shut down completely, and I had no control over it. What is worse, these panic attacks used to happen during the school day, and I couldn’t do anything about them. I started slipping in my grades, friendships, and family life. Every single day, I was afraid to wake up because I knew what I would have to face. I went to my mom and begged to see a doctor. I knew it could not be normal. But my pediatrician at the time dismissed my claims, and told me not to worry. It was only an asthma attack. But I knew that it couldn’t have been.

Finally, after many visits, a doctor was able to diagnose my problems. I was sent straight to a therapist, and put on Celexa and Ativan. It was a whirlwind of emotions. I was scared, alone, and I didn’t know how to handle it. The panic attacks were so hard to conquer. No one around me seemed to understand. My teachers didn’t adapt to it – If I had an attack in class, they couldn’t and wouldn’t let me step out. I just had to work through it. Anyone that has experienced these knows that is not something you can just do. I felt like the world was completely against me getting better.

Every attack made my confidence drop. I felt like I would never get to the point of normal life again. But then I read I Don’t Want to be Crazy, and I realized that there were so many other people who knew exactly how I felt. I wasn’t alone, and I was going to be a success just like everyone before me. Three years later, I am still not perfect. I have my moments, and sometimes I go through panic attacks that are worse than they used to be. But with the help of therapists, my medication, and a strong will, I have been able to define myself without saying, “I’m Paige, and I have panic disorder”.

I am above my illness. I am so much more than what is holding me back. I just want anyone out there who is reading this to know that the world is not against your recovery. Just take a step back and look around. There are so many beautiful resources at your fingertips, and you can do it. You just have to be ready and willing to take the first step towards being O.K."

Friday, October 16, 2009

What's this blog all about?

Since the publication of my memoir, I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, I have had the privilege of getting your letters. You write about your fears, your struggles, your isolation...but also of your hope and recovery. The most common phrase in all your emails is: “Your story made me feel less alone.” The repetition of this phrase is not surprising since one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year—that translates into nearly 58 million people (NIMH). Of those disorders, anxiety disorders are the most common—affecting 40 million adults (ADAA).

I am honored to be your audience of one, but your story—like mine—has the power to help others. With this in mind, I created this blog as a place for YOU to contribute your stories and poems. Together, we can close the gap between all those people who are “one in four” and struggling with mental illness.

Your words are powerful. Your words can help people.
Share them.

Be well,

How do I post?
1) Email your submission to (In order to keep the site organized and free of unrelated content, I will post your submission for you. However, all readers will be able post comments directly to the site.)

2) Put “YouMakeMeFeelLessAlone” in the subject line.

3) Copy and paste the info below to the top of your email. Then fill in the answers.

Do you want to post anonymously? ______________
If not, how do you want your name to appear with your post (full name, first name, initials, etc.)? ______________
What is your age? ______________ (FYI: If you are under 18, I am not comfortable posting full names and locations.)
Where do you live? ______________
If I create a Twitter account (or something similar) for this blog, could I post a snippet of your submission?

When will my post appear?
I hope to put up posts within a week or so of getting your submission.

What are the guidelines?
-Keep posts to under 500 words.
-Submit only about topics relating to mental illness.
-Take care and pride in your post. Please review your submission carefully before emailing me.

What else should I know?
-Your post is yours. By posting you are NOT giving me any rights to your words.
-You can subscribe to this blog for free. That way you’ll get an email each time there is a new post.