Anxiety Art // What’s Your Stigma Saying?

“You just have to stay positive.” 

“You don’t look depressed.” 

“You have anxiety? You’re so social I would never have known.” 

We’ve all heard them. Sayings that may seem simple, but continue to perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s little phrases like “stay positive,” or “just snap out of it” that not only make those suffering from mental illness feel they are a burden, they aren’t even helpful or empathetic.

It’s been awhile, but I was so grateful to have these two wonderful artists share the phrases or sayings they’ve come into contact with throughout their journey.

What’s your stigma saying? 

 

Sydnei

An aspiring art therapist, this sweet soul is advocating mental health and recovery through her beautiful doodles. With bright colors shining off of each print she draws, her words and art are a mixture of her own lessons in therapy and empowering affirmations for those who face their fears on a daily basis. You can buy her art here!

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****TW: Abuse****

“That’s the phrase I heard over and over from my abuser. And I remember the first person I told said ‘that’s disgusting.’ Now, I am surrounded by people who care about me thankfully. But the word dirty has broke me, though these days I am much stronger. Even if I my room gets to a certain point of messy it’s like I shut down. Sometimes my hands with have paint and stuff and I shut down because it translates to ‘I’m dirty.’ It’s the biggest trigger for my PTSD. I’ve had to unlearn that phrase. I’d look in the mirror and instantly feel shame and disgust.”

 

Eliza

Promoting mental health one illustration at a time, this anxious doodler is here to break the stigma. I’ve only recently come to know Eliza, but judging from the vulnerable, authentic and powerful print she submitted for this series–we’ll be fast friends. 

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“Have you tried meditation? Omm yes… but that’s not the point.

Imagine having killer migraines that everyone you met had recommendations on how to take care of. But, you were allergic to the helpful essential oils and your tolerance levels were too high for pain killers. It would be frustrating to constantly hear solutions that worked for others but–because of your body’s chemistry–failed you.

It’s the same with my anxiety. When I open up about it, I’m not looking for solutions.

I’m looking for friendship and support. You don’t know the journey I’ve made or what solutions I’ve tried. You don’t know what may trigger bad memories or add to my anxiety. Perhaps try asking questions rather posing unsolicited advice. ‘Thank you for sharing. Is there something I can do to help?’ ‘I’ve never heard of that, can you tell me more?’

Solutions is what I pay my psychiatrist for. I need a network of caring friends not a network of well-meaning unlicensed doctors.”

 

With help from their pencil and paintbrush, these two artists communicate essential messages of unlearning phrases we’ve heard over and over and navigating unsolicited advice about our own individual struggle. I cannot stress how crucial breaking these stigmas are for those of us who consistently battle mental illness. I’m glad these two women are here, on the front lines with me. Showing up everyday and confronting society–while they confront each aspect of themselves. 

 

Are you an artist that supports mental health? Share your story and you might be featured on the next Anxiety Art series! 

Works in Progress // Jocelyn

Suffering from years of abuse by a family member, Jocelyn’s mental health issues began at an early age. Pushing through a period of darkness, she was able to find the light through a combination of nutrition, consistent movement, and self-care.

Meet Jocelyn.

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Name: Jocelyn Zahn

Age: 25

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

(TW/CW: Suicidal ideation, self-harm, eating disorders, sexual abuse)

I have been diagnosed with PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder and have also battled orthorexia and anorexia.

My mental health issues arose at a young age. During my childhood, I suffered years of sexual abuse by a family member. At age 12, my life felt as though it was falling apart for the very first time. After going through the Texas public school system and taking “sex education”, which was really only abstinence only education, as an 7th grader, I began to panic. The system failed me entirely and I believed the abuse was my fault. I was scared, alone, and felt as though I couldn’t tell anyone what happened to me because they would view me as a sinner. When you’re young, you don’t always understand the concept of abuse, I certainly didn’t. And the “sex education” I received only left me feeling isolated and hopeless.

This was the first time I can recall staring a hole through my knife drawer in my home in San Antonio. This was the first time I envisioned what it would be like to take my own life…and I wanted to. The suicidal ideations have been a part of me almost every day since.

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

Well, I was truly pushed to my limit before I decided to reach out for help. The first time I received mental health treatment of any kind was when I was hospitalized at 18 for suicidal ideation. This was a result of me coming out and having negative backlash-to say the least. I lost almost everything and everyone I loved (at least for a time) and I wanted to throw in the towel. Though, I definitely wish I had received help earlier.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

While I am ecstatic to say my life is beautiful and fulfilling now, I still live with my mental illness every day. I have come to learn and accept the fact that it is a part of me, a part I will live with forever. Because of this, I have shifted my focus from trying to “rid myself” of my mental illness to learning how to cope with it daily.

I have learned coping skills that work for me, my mind, and my body. Developing these skills certainly looks different for everyone, but for me, I have found great success in balancing my mood through food, movement, and spirituality.

90% of our serotonin (some people call this the ‘happy’ chemical, or the ‘feel good hormone’) is made in our gut. This has been an incredible thing for me to focus on and experiment with due to the fact that the biggest daily challenge I face in regards to my mental illness, is volatile mood swings. Gut health has saved me a whole lot of random ‘crying for no reason’ tears or ‘lashing out at someone for no reason’ moments. I have found a balance of nutritious and not so nutritious food that works for me to maintain a steady mood throughout the day.

Other than that, incorporating consistent movement has been a life saver for me. Due to years of suppressed trauma, I have a whole lot internalized anger. Moving my body intuitively gives me the outlet I need to release this anger and anxiety. As you can imagine, this helps balance my mood, as well.

A couple years back, I learned that me and almost my entire immediate family has some pretty severe vitamin deficiencies. This was so helpful to learn (KNOWLEDGE IS POWER haha). To combat my almost daily suicidal ideations, I take a Vitamin D supplement, as I am lacking quite severely in that area.

I also practice affirmations, daily self-care, and tarot card readings- as they help me feel more connected to something bigger than myself and my own problems.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

Wow. This is an excellent question. Contrary to popular belief, living with a mental illness has not been all negative for me. Living with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more has made me a much more empathetic person than most people I know. It has given me the skill of powerful and active listening. It has taught me so much about what it means to be “good enough” as a human being on this earth. It has given me perspective. It has also led me to the career of my dreams. All of which, I wouldn’t trade for the world.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

If I could tell younger me one thing, it would be that no matter how much the darkness is consuming me at any given moment, it is not me. Darkness lives inside of me because of things that have happened to me, yes. But the light is a part of me.

I would tell myself that as alone as I feel at times, I don’t have to carry my burden alone.

 

Learn more about how Jocelyn has turned her mess into her message at Holistic Self-Love!

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments and you could be featured on the blog!

Works in Progress // Stephany

Diagnosed with anxiety, depression, severe PTSD, traits of borderline personality disorder, GAD, and an eating disorder, Stephany has overcome so much. Fighting her way through an abusive relationship, sexual assault, and even homelessness, this strong soul is the definition of a mental health warrior. 

Meet Stephany.

 

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Name: Stephany

Age: 20

 

**Trigger warning: rape**

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

When I was a freshman in high school I moved from my La Jolla home to Carlsbad in hopes of escaping the bullies and finding a new sense of belonging. With all the changes of a new home, new school, my mother’s new boyfriend, my best friend moving across the world, and entering high school, I fell into a deep pit of hopelessness.

In the heat of a massive fight with my mother, she threatened to send me to my father and that was the exact moment that sent me spiraling out of control. After 12 weeks of missing person reports, truancy, failing grades, days of hiding behind locked doors, and refusing to eat, I was admitted to a residential treatment facility in Utah where I spent six agonizing months learning how to cope and sharing my deepest fears with strangers. While I was there, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, severe post traumatic stress disorder, traits of borderline personality disorder, generalized mood disorder, and an eating disorder.

With a team of doctors, therapists, and facility staff I was able to work through the wreckage and claw my way out of my first experience with rock bottom.

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

After I was discharged, I returned home and continued my treatment with a team of doctors and therapists and spent three years coping with mild anxiety and the normal stresses of a teenager. Then, in May of my senior year of high school I entered into a depressive episode after becoming homeless and living out my car with only $100 to my name. At the time I was in an abusive relationship with a man who was older than me by four years and I truly believed we were in love. After managing to find a full-time job, graduating high school with honors, and finding a place to live, my relationship began to crumble because I was no longer in need of his help. We broke up in the beginning of July and two weeks later he called to invite me over for drinks. That night is the night that I was raped.

A year and a half later, I came to accept the reality of that night and sought help from a therapist who asked me, “Well did you say no?”

After that session, I was determined to fight my demons on my own and spent endless hours researching the affects of trauma and steps I could take to work through it. I slowly began to share my struggles with my closest friends who helped teach me that the smallest victories are worth celebration and I am worthy of self-love. The most pivotal moment of my recovery though was when I shared the story of the sexual assault with a friend who knew the offender and said to me, “I believe you.” 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

Today, I still have my struggles with anxiety and disordered eating, but I have learned that I am not alone and by sharing my story I can help others on their journey. I am unashamed of my demons and I often wake up and thank myself for not giving into those low points where I felt like there was no way out of the misery I was experiencing. I am strong and I want to empower others to feel their own strength.

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you might be featured on the blog! 

Why Words Hurt // Philip’s Story

Stories of being bullied are never easy, but this one is important to tell. I was approached by the wonderful, sweet Philip to share his story on the power of words.

With this blog, I’ve always preached the power of words in a positive way, but there is always another side to every story. Sometimes they can hurt. More recently, I’ve realized just how easily words can pierce not only the heart, but the mind, soul, and entire being. From reading Philip’s story, I can safely say I know more about the effects of bullying and that I’m not at all shocked by his newfound strength – he’s a force to be reckoned with.

As soon as Philip stepped on his college campus, he was judged – and eventually bullied – for being different. Living with autism, he suffered for years at the hands of others who put him down for something beyond his control. It was the support and love of a best friend that got him through it all, and now he’s taken to his blog to tell everyone just how much words can hurt.

Read Philip’s story below.

 

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Imagine being picked on for no other reason than someone doesn’t like you. For victims of bullying, this is exactly how it is. I know because I was bullied for being different.

The bullying started in middle school. I was picked on because I was apparently “too smart,” and I did not have a lot of friends. I thought that by going to a different high school, I could start over. I was wrong.

I was bullied again in high school. Instead of verbal bullying, people pushed me down stairs and threw water bottles at me. I did not know what I had done to deserve this. It was taking a toll on me, but I pushed through.

When I started college at Valparaiso University in August 2008, I thought that the bullying was finally over. I was wrong again. It started out with kids drawing stuff on my whiteboard outside my dorm room. Instead of nice drawings, it was vulgar images. I honestly did not think that much of it since it didn’t really bother me. As time went on, the bullying got worse and affected my academic performance.

By May 2010, my grade point average was below a 2.0 and I was put on academic probation. I also took more credit hours than I could effectively handle. By September 2010 and the beginning of my third year, the bullying became hell. I had people prank-calling me, calling me just about every name you can think of, spreading false rumors about me, and leaving anonymous voice messages telling me how I was just a freak and deserved to be bullied. It got so bad that by October, I contemplated taking my life. The reason I didn’t was because of a girl who not only became my best friend but was an angel in disguise. She stuck with me throughout the entire ordeal and never once left my side.

As the semester dragged on, my grades suffered heavily and I was even afraid to show my face around campus. I stayed in my dorm room and only showed my face when it was absolutely necessary. There were times that I skipped class because I was afraid of being bullied and harassed by my classmates. Things only got worse. At the end of the semester, my grades were so bad that I was suspended. Now I got to spend all of 2011 at the local community college. I felt like I had let everyone, including my best friend, down. That was about the lowest I had ever felt in my life. I suffered through severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and bouts of feeling like no one cared about me.

I had to take it upon myself to stay strong and push through the relentless torment and harassment. I felt completely alone and worthless. The more I tried to get help from the administration at Valparaiso University, the more I was pushed away. It was like nobody cared that I was being relentlessly bullied.

If it wasn’t for my best friend that I met over lunch one day, I never would have pushed through and gotten my degree from Valparaiso University. As soon as I told her my story, she was appalled that anyone would bully me. She saw me not as an outcast, but someone who was trying to fit in.

When I found out I was suspended, she stuck with me and helped me to regain my self-confidence. When I came back in January 2012 and continued to be cyber-bullied, I knew I could go to my best friend and tell her what was going on. Not once did she treat me like an outcast or creep.

When it came time for me to graduate in December 2014, I knew that she was going to be invited. What I was not expecting was a card telling me how I proved her wrong and how our friendship would never die. My favorite part of the hand-written note was a quote that said “I have never been more excited to have been proven wrong. You are the epitome of hard work and success and I am so proud to call you a friend. Continue to dream and you will always be successful.” She was so proud of me for not giving up and working toward getting my degree. To this day, we are still good friends.

Bullying can affect anyone. The saying that sticks and stones can break bones, but words will never hurt is not true at all. Words hurt. They hurt me. The names I was called have left emotional scars that will never fully heal. If you can’t say something nice, do not say it at all. Is it really that difficult to treat someone with respect and kindness? It must be since those who are different will be forced to know how they can’t be normal.

Cyber-bullying is far too common today. Victims are made to feel so worthless that taking their own life is the only way to end the pain and suffering. How many more lives will be lost to bullying before something is done? How many more victims will have to suffer in silence?

I still suffer from nightmares and flashbacks because of the bullying I endured during college. There were days that I actually avoided going to class in college because I felt like such a freak. I felt no one cared or even wanted to help me recover. The only person I had at the time to confide in was my best friend. I can tell you from personal experience that it is not funny at all to bully someone. Some states even have laws that state if a person makes a victim commit suicide by bullying, the consequences can be harsh.

What’s worse is that many schools claim to have an anti-bullying policy in place, yet don’t do anything when victims speak out. This is not right. Victims should not have to suffer and feel nobody is there for them. It’s no wonder suicide rates are so high when it comes to victims of bullying.

It’s time that we take a stand and put an end to bullying for good.

 

To read more about Philip and his journey, head to his blog at http://philipfeldwisch.blogspot.com/.  

Do you have a topic you’re passionate about surrounding mental health? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Elliott

Suffering from multiple, severe mental illnesses since the age of 16, Elliott’s life has been a constant cycle of instability, chaos, and breakdowns. Locked up in a ward four times, it was only when he hit rock bottom that he made the decision to start attending DBT therapy.

Applying the skills he’s learned from DBT therapy to his everyday life, Elliott fights to have a fulfilling life – despite his mental illness.

 

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Name: Elliott Smith

Age: 47


Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

July 17th of this year is my 47th birthday. The first time I remember being diagnosed was 1986 – I was 16. I was suffering from depression with suicidal ideology. I came home from school one day and decided life was to painful to live. So, I wrote my mom a note, got some rope and went in search of a farm grain silo to hang myself in. A woman from my step dad’s church (he was the pastor) saw me and called my mother who came and found me and talked me into getting help. I then spent two and a half months in a locked ward where I was diagnosed with depression.

That was the first diagnosis of many. My time of service in The US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division left me with PTSD. Then the anxiety, bipolar diagnosis and Borderline Personality Disorder. Because I have so many – I feel – accurate diagnoses, I refer to the group as just mental illness. I don’t know where one illness ends and the other begins. This mix of diagnosis have so many symptoms. The depression, anxiety, mania, aggression, anger, horror and fear in the form of flashbacks. I have always, as long as I remember, felt like something wasn’t right. My life was a cycle. Stability. Then instability. Chaos, then breakdown. Then the cycle would start again.



What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

I have attempted or planned suicide four times – all four times I have been institutionalized. But still, my life didn’t change. My illness and my symptoms pulled me around like a dog on a leash. I had little pockets of happiness in an ocean of fear, pain, darkness, and agony. For this period, I didn’t really have uninterrupted medical or mental health care coverage. So, I would try to get help but for years could not afford to stay in therapy. In 2010, after finding out about the VA compensation process I put in for PTSD competition. I received disability status from the VA. This allowed me uninterrupted medical and mental health covered for the last seven years. This was the point my mental illness turned a corner.

Around this time, I had a very horrible episode where I ended up hurting someone then I tried to hang myself. I was again at rock bottom. Somewhere in the process of getting back on my feet again, I decided to figure out how to change the life I was leading. I decided to work to learn how to live a quality life. It was not a bolt out of the blue or “ah-ha” moment – it was a slow realization. I was finally aware that I needed to help myself before I was going to be able to get proper help. I was going to have to work my fucking ass off to ever have a quality life.



How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?


Well for me it is everyday life. It’s been 30 years (diagnosed) of mental illness. I don’t remember anything else – it is apart of everything. This very reason is why the skills I have learned are so important.


In 2011, I attended Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT. The skills I learned there became the life-changing foundation of not just how I’ve learned to cope, but I learned to really thrive and found a way to maintain and live a quality life. The skills I learned from DBT were practical actions and strategies I could apply in specific or general ways to my everyday life.

  • Mindfulness. Focusing on what it is I am doing and saying. Focusing on my thoughts without letting them run away with my actions.
  • Wise mind. Because I lived in my emotional mind or my rational mind I would go back and forth between chaos and shame. Trying to maintain wise mind (both emotion mind and rational mind at the same time in balance) keeps me able to make decisions that help me maintain a quality life.
  • Distress tolerance. Knowing that life is probably going to get a little dicey and having the skills to tolerate the distress that is going to be apart of my life is crucial.
  • Checking the facts. This skill I learned allows me to challenge my symptoms and thoughts and hold them up to the light to see if they are real or the lies my symptoms tell me.
  • Radical acceptance. This allows me to accept the big unpleasant truths without giving up or giving in.
  • Acceptance. Accepting my reality was a life-changing experience. When I accepted that I have multiple mental illnesses and I will continue to have these issues  – I was set free. This acceptance for me also mentioned being completely transparent with my self and others in my life that mental illness was part of who I am. I would no longer try to hide how my life was to anyone ever again. My mental illnesses are always something you get to know as you learn more about me.

The list of skills go on and on and I talk about them a lot in both my @myrhoughtsracing Instagram and my blog.



How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you?


Mental illness literally has only given me symptoms. I get what you’re asking, but I don’t see it as a gift or a benefit. With that said, I have learned by living through my symptoms that people – all of us – are amazing! That life is hard but worth it. That life is precious and fragile. I learned these gifts not because of my mental illness but in spite of it.



What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?

My thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings. I don’t have to indulge them. They are not in charge of my life.

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you could be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Hannah

Battling depression, anxiety and chronic illness, Hannah didn’t reach out for help until she was in her darkest place. Realizing the big impact of little things like a simple text from a close friend or focusing on a craft, this bold, brave soul has found the right tools for her own healing.

With a combination of faith, kindness, and a realization that we aren’t actually alone in our suffering, read Hannah’s full story below.

 

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Name: Hannah Kassebaum  

Age: 21

 

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I have battled a difficult and strenuous battle with depression. Anxiety now depletes me most days because of a chronic illness, but depression has been a constant since age 12.  Nine years of my life. I think I always knew I had a disposition to be more of the depressed type. I am just more of a melancholy, pessimistic, glass-half-empty person. Just as I was more of a stressed out, anxious person. But, I think I realized I struggled with depression when I was 16 or 17.

I knew I was sad frequently when I was younger, but I didn’t have a term to accurately describe it. Besides being an overly emotional pre-pubescent preteen. It got bad when I was 16 or 17. I was suicidal. I contemplated in great detail killing myself. I would “punish” myself by writing horrible things about myself all over my body, beating my body on objects (mostly my head), and trying to pass out by holding my breath. I never cut so I think I brushed off my depression because it didn’t come out in that specific way like many people my age. I was depressed in the most high functioning way, it didn’t deter me from taking care of myself or cause me to be unmotivated. It just wrecked my mind. It was paired with self-hatred and was a dangerous cocktail of mental distress. It affected me then in how I allowed myself to be treated. In how I treated myself. I felt worthless and disregarded myself as trash, I collected abusive boyfriends like it was a hobby as a means to punish myself for merely existing. I did this for years.

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

 I didn’t ask for help for years. Actually, until this year. I figured living in a state of mental illness, self-hatred, depression and contemplating suicide was going to be my normal and I would live life that way. It wasn’t until it got bad this year to where I couldn’t function. To where I didn’t want to function. To the point where I wasn’t eating or showering or doing anything besides getting up twice out of bed once to use the bathroom and grab a snack just in case and the other time to turn on the TV.

It was the first time I was entirely knocked flat on my face by depression. It was coupled with guilt and self-hatred and this suffocating feeling of worthlessness. Like my existence was a burden. I sought help because I had this moment where I knew “I could have something else. I could have something better.” But I also sought help because I became a part of the body positivity community, where I saw strong women who would talk about their mental illness along with eating disorders and body dysmorphia and a million other things. It gave me hope. Like maybe I could talk about it and try to move forward, too.

  

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope? 

Depression is still something I battle. I think I will always battle it, but the difference is it won’t win. It’s not that I am happy constantly. In fact, most days I am anxious and overwhelmed, but what I gained was this ability. This ability to sense when an episode was coming on. Just before I lost my ability to feel human and function and go about life, I could sense it. And I have learned to take that brief moment to remove myself from the situation and seek peace from what could happen. I learned that going outside and forcing myself to be around my best friends sometimes saved my mind. That sometimes sending a text with a small phrase “I am falling apart, help” to a close trusted friend could ease my mind. Sometimes it was calling my mom and vocalizing my struggle. Sometimes it was doing a craft, something to put my mind at ease and focus on. But mostly, it’s been my religious beliefs that I’ve turned to in times where I feel as though I am on the brink of falling apart.

 

 

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you?  

Mental illness has taught me to be compassionate. To be selfless. Which seems odd, but my own depression and mental illness struggles have taught me that there is more than just me who has to coexist with depression, OCD, PTSD, anxiety, on and on. I am not the only one. This is both a comfort that in times where I feel most alone, there are thousands of people feeling the same exact way. But it is also a reality check to step outside of myself. To know that on the days where I am close to an episode and forcing myself out of the house or my mind, those are the days where a stranger smiling at me with my disheveled appearance or the kind words of a friend are life changing.

It taught me how to be kind. How to smile at strangers and speak lovingly to my friends at all times. Because that’s the thing about mental illness: most often it’s not apparent. The longer I am alive, the more I have discovered how so many people I know walk through everyday with depression, but also a smile on their face. And it has taught me that just because someone seems put together or happy or whatever doesn’t mean that it’s true or that they don’t need kindness just as I do. 

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?  

This is a toughie. I don’t know if it’s advice per se, but I would’ve told myself this:

This feeling that you feel so deep, it’s depression. It’s not your enemy. It’s not what defines you. You are not broken because of mental illness. You are not changed because of it either. It exists. As do you. And learning to understand this, that your depression doesn’t equal brokenness and that falling apart is fine will be something that could very well save you.

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you could be featured on the blog!