Mental Illness Isn’t Who You Are

Sep 6

Experiencing any mental illness can be challenging, frustrating, and sometimes debilitating. It is something someone deals with, but it isn’t who someone is. Mental illness is a challenge, not an identity. Blue Black Jordan Shoes

You developed schizophrenia, and I know from talking to you that it’s scary and frustrating and it has brought a lot of changes to your life. Under Armour Rocket But it’s not who you are, Penelope. It is merely something you have to deal with. Your mind plays some pretty nasty tricks on you sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that you are unlovable. — Oliver to Penelope in Leave of Absence

Mental illness is a challenge, not an identity. Increasing understanding of mental illness helps this truth be known.That mental illness, any specific mental illness, isn’t an identity isn’t always easy to believe. Often, people associate their mental health challenges with who they are as a human being. There are multiple reasons for this.

  • Mental illnesses impact emotions, and often life feels out of control and hard to handle. It’s natural to believe that these intense, sometimes erratic feelings are a sign that we’re flawed somehow, unable to handle ourselves and the world around us.
  • Mental illnesses impacts thoughts. Parajumpers parka Mental illness can impact the way people think about themselves and the world. Nike Air Max Thea Femme Blanche Everyone has what are called faulty thoughts or automatic negative thoughts (like imposing “shoulds” upon yourself or catastrophizing/blowing something out of proportion and stressing out), but mental illnesses have a way of intensifying these thoughts.
  • Mental illnesses impact behaviors. Emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are intricately connected, and they affect each other. Faulty thoughts and intense emotions can affect actions people do or don’t take. Anxiety disorders, for example, can be very life-limiting when they prevent people from going out or doing certain things because of fear and worry.
  • Society doesn’t fully understand mental illness. Phoenix Suns A word commonly used for this misunderstanding is stigma. Canada Goose Chateau Parka There’s a lot of misperceptions about what mental illness really is, and this can negatively impact how someone living with mental illness is treated. Sometimes, outsiders see the mental illness before seeing the real person experiencing it.

Together, these can cause someone believe that mental illness is who they are. The truth is that mental illness (again, any particular mental illness) has affected the brain, not the essence of who we are. Memphis Tigers Jerseys The truth is that there are numerous treatments available to reduce the impact mental illnesses have on emotions, actions, and thoughts. The truth is that understanding can be taught. By listening to people’s shared stories, by reading memoirs and non-fiction books and articles about mental illness, by reading novels that show what these challenges are like for people, society as a whole is developing deeper understanding of what mental illness really is and what people living with mental health challenges experience. The truth is that mental illness isn’t who you are. AIR MORE UPTEMPO Therefore, you can rise above the illness to thrive. Journalism students from the University of Oregon interviewed me for a production for Allen Hall Studios. I share a bit about my own experience with mental illness — and transcending it. Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Asics Gel Lyte 3 Femme Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities.


Can Novels Really Humanize Mental Illness?

Aug 17


“How did Tanya J. Peterson know what is going on inside my head?  Can she read my thoughts? My Life in a Nutshell hit very close to home for me.” —Teressa M. with Window on the World

To receive such a comment is one of the most meaningful, and the most exciting, compliments I could possibly receive as a novelist. My characters face mental health challenges and live with mental illness, and it’s my hope that readers bond deeply with my characters and maybe even love them. Why? It will lead to increased understanding and empathy in the real world.

I write novels about mental illness and mental health challenges. My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel tells Brian Cunningham’s story. Brian lives with debilitating anxiety disorders, and he lives a severely limited life. He’s lonely, but he feels powerless to do a thing about it. A seven-year-old child named Abigail wriggles her way into Brian’s closed-off world, resulting in increased pain yet increased potential for life.

Oliver Graham and Penelope Baker (and her fiancé William) are the focus of Leave of Absence. Oliver, crippled by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression after the traumatic loss of his family, is hospitalized against his will. Penelope, wrestling with schizophrenia and the harm it has done to her life, wants to set her fiancée free. Will friendship and connection help them?

Novels humanize mental illness and increase empathy for people living with mental health challenges.I do indeed hope that readers fall in love with Brain and Abigail, Oliver, Penelope, and William. To love them is to connect with them. Human connection is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. Connection to characters leads to increased connection, empathy, and understanding of people in the real world outside the pages of a novel.

I’m a nationally certified counselor. I also have personal experience with mental illness. I’ve lived with anxiety disorders (generalized and social), biopolar 1 disorder, and the effects of brain injury. In my life experience, I’ve learned that mental illness is misunderstood.

The illnesses, be they depression, anxiety, PTSD, depression, or a whole host of others, are misunderstood, which means that people who live with them are misunderstood. Misunderstanding can lead to fear and prejudice, which makes those living with mental health challenges feel isolated, alone, and hopeless.

I write novels—Leave of Absence, My Life in a Nutshell, and Twenty-four Shadows (coming in spring, 2016) to deepen empathy and compassion, to humanize mental illness. When people love the characters in a novel, they empathize with them. That empathy is often transferred to real-life human beings. Additionally, and icing on the cake, people can be entertained in the process as they enjoy connecting and loving characters.

“Here’s the thing about Peterson’s work: her characters are key. Peterson isn’t afraid to show the true side of human nature, to open doors that society has slammed closed, and examine what truly makes us tick. I fell in love with her two main characters in My Life in a Nutshell.” — Ellen M. with The Canon

Humanizing Mental Illness; Increasing Empathy


Seek to Understand Someone with Mental Illness: Perspective

Sep 28

  in another's shoesThe novel Leave of Absence is set largely in a behavioral health center/hospital, a fictionalized version of one I stayed in. TEAM COURT One day, Penelope (struggling with schizophrenia) and Oliver (struggling with major depression and PTSD) were attending a group session. As part of an activity, Oliver was asked, “If you could invent one thing that could make the world a better place, what would it be?”


It’s an important question. So much so that Google once held a contest challenging the world to invent something that, in their minds, would make the world a better place. My own (unsubmitted) response to Google’s call was this: To make the world a better place, I’d create an in-someone’s-shoes machine. Here’s how it would work: in any interaction with another human being, especially, but not necessarily, one of conflict, each person would step into the machine. Maybe it would look like a giant shoe. Bo Jackson Maybe it would just be a box. But either way, the people would step inside and be given a perspective of the conflict from the other person’s point of view. Navy Midshipmen Jerseys They’d learn from an empathic perspective why the issue is important for each other. There could even be a larger machine for group conflicts. When we seek first to understand rather than to convince, argue, or judge, something wonderful happens. Air Jordan 11 Retro We begin to see the humanity in each other, and we begin to treat each other better.


Sometimes, when someone lives with mental illness, he or she is treated as someone “off,” someone who is defective. I myself have experienced this. Upon learning that I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had spent time in a behavioral health hospital, I had friends turn away, an employer change his mind about my ability to work for him. Daniel Fells I’ve heard similar stories from countless people. It’s tragic, but in most cases, I don’t think it comes from anybody trying to be “bad.” Rather, it comes from a lack of understanding. I’m certainly not excusing those people who shunned me during my times in and out of the hospital and after they learned about my diagnosis. I think, though, that they were reacting to misinformation and preconceived notions about psychiatric care, mental illness, and traumatic brain injury. Xavier Musketeers


Hence, my in-someone’s-shoes machine. What does it feel like to be another person? I don’t have the technical know-how to actually invent such a machine. Air Jordan 4 Cement Yeah, like I could even do anything other than grab a shoebox and exclaim, hey, it’s a box and it held shoes! However, I am doing everything that is actually in my power to understand and to encourage understanding and empathy. Parajumpers Femme New Arches I live the principle in my own life, and I try to show what it’s like to live with various mental illnesses. I do this by writing novels whose characters live with mental illness or have someone in their lives with mental illness. Leave of Absence is a story of two people attempting to survive mental illness and life in a behavioral health hospital. My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel is the story of a man struggling with debilitating anxiety disorders, and Twenty-Four Shadows tells the tale of a man named Isaac, his alters, his wife and son, and his best friend as the all respond to Isaac’s new diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder. Losing Elizabeth, a middle grade book, shows adolescents, parents, and teachers the negative effects of toxic, emotionally abusive relationships. UGG Classic Short In a way, these novels are in-someone’s-shoes-machines.


My Writing Process: A Look at How and Why I Write Novels about Mental Illness

Sep 20

Recently, novelist Chris Longmuir invited me to participate in a blog tour in which writers discuss their writing processes. Kyle Arrington My initial impulse was to decline, as this is a mental health blog rather than a writing blog. I then realized that all of my writing, both fiction and non-fiction, is about mental health issues; therefore, I decided that this event does indeed have a place on my website. Below, I answer four questions posed to me about my writing process. It is my hope that this will provide some behind-the-scenes input into what I write and why I write it. Before I begin, I’d like to shout out a thanks to Chris Longmuir for inviting me to participate. She has written many novels, most of them crime novels. Check her out at   Why and how I write novels about mental illnessWHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON? While I wait for my fourth novel, Twenty-four Shadows, to be released by Apprentice House Press in the spring of 2016, I’m working away on my next. Like my others, it’s a character-driven novel that highlights a personal attempt to live life amidst mental health and environmental challenges. It’s a woman’s journey that spans a lifetime and two continents. My novels currently available are Losing Elizabeth Leave of Absence My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel   HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE? The genre of my writing is contemporary fiction, which is an extremely broad category, and the novels within are varied. It’s difficult to state why one novelist in such a huge genre is different from another. Portland Trail Blazers Perhaps my works are unique for their mission (more on that in the next question). I use fiction for non-fiction purposes. Air Jordan 5 (V) Actually, Leave of Absence was selected as a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards 2013 competition in a contemporary fiction sub-category they dubbed “Faction,” fiction based on fact. Air Max Flyknit Hombre Losing Elizabeth was awarded Storytellers Campfire’s top honor in 2014, the Marble Book Award for being a “book that makes a difference in the world.” Kirkus Reviews called My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel “A vital tool for sufferers and their families that broadens understanding of a debilitating illness” and named it to their top books of 2014.   WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO? My goal, through my novels, is to change the way the world thinks about mental illness and the people who experience it. I’m hoping to help increase both factual understanding and empathy. Fiction is a powerful vehicle for teaching fact. Nike Yeezy 2
People connect to characters in novels, and they empathize with them. Commonly, people transfer their empathy to real-life human beings. canada goose dawson parka So I use fiction as my medium for humanizing mental illness, for deepening empathy and compassion.   HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK? I begin with what to me are the biggies: theme and character. I ponder what I’d like to focus on, what theme I want to illustrate, and then I envision the characters who will help me do this. While I do brainstorm as I create characters, I typically end up “feeling” them rather than “thinking” them. Moncler Homme For example, with Leave of Absence, I wanted to show life in behavioral health hospitals, and I wanted to portray schizophrenia and major depression. In My Life in a Nutshell, I wanted to show how very debilitating various forms of anxiety can be. With each story, I pondered, often with my eyes closed, almost in mediation, how that would play out. As I did this both times, characters came to mind, and with them, deeper issues than I already had in mind. Once I know the characters, I spend time with them in my mind, and it doesn’t take long before I’ve bonded with them and feel close to them. After all, if I don’t feel a closeness to and an empathy for my characters, how in the world will readers feel it? And isn’t my whole point to build empathy and understanding? Once my characters are firmly established in my heart, it’s time to delve into their specific difficulties. While I do have a Master’s degree in counseling and am credentialed as a Nationally Certified Counselor, and while I do live with bipolar 1 disorder and experience anxiety, I never, ever, think that I know it all. That would be absurd! I enter the research phase, a phase I never fully leave until a manuscript has been revised by me, edited by a professional, revised by me again, and re-edited by said professional. Research is an integral part of my writing process. Julian Edelman So are brainstorming and sketching and revising. UGG Classic Sparkles With each and every chapter, I begin by reviewing where I’ve been and where I want to go. Each chapter, as I write, is a step in how the characters are going to get where they need to be. Writing, while challenging, is great fun. Positive psychologists speak of flow, the period in which one is fully engaged in what he or she is doing. In flow, one is focused, and all other thoughts, worries, stresses, and other negative things fall away. asics lyte 3 rosso uomo Finding flow is important for mental health and well-being. I find my flow when I write. Hopefully, that helps me achieve what I’m writing for in the first place: understanding of mental illness and empathy for those who experience it.


Stop Stigma: Does it Stop Short?

Sep 18

“Stigma” is a prominent concept in the mental health community, and probably rightly so. It refers to a sense otherness, an experience of judgment and prejudice, and a feeling of isolated loneliness that results from the judgment. It’s not merely a perceived concept; rather, it’s very tangible and real. A great many people who experience mental illness or mental health challenges report the loss of friendships, jobs, and other such life things critical to well-being. I co-facilitate a NAMI Connection support group, and the topic of stigma is a popular discussion. I myself have experienced it. I’ve lost a couple of friendships when said friends were uncomfortable with my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and I had negative responses from an employer that resulted in a distinct lack of employment. To be sure, when I was dealing with a traumatic brain injury and the diagnosis of bipolar 1 disorder, I couldn’t work. UGG Classic Short The employer was very supportive about the TBI and wanted me to return when ready, but when the employer learned that I was in a behavioral health rather than a “regular” hospital and was diagnosed with a mental illness, I was unwelcome and even told that I couldn’t be trusted. This was not based on any changed behavior or reliability on my part but instead on the perception of mental illness on their part. That is what stigma means. Nike Air Presto Yes. That is stigma. Stigma is real. Stigma is bullying. It leaves a foul taste in the mouths of those who speak of it, and it is toxic. To have toxicity means to poison those exposed to the substance—or in this case, the concept. People are hurt by stigma. However, perhaps “stigma” is toxic in another way, too. I recently engaged in a twitter conversation, limited to 140-character exchanges yet very meaningful, discussing the frustrating aspects of “stigma.” While stigma is indeed real and undeniable, are mental health organizations doing people a disservice by continuing to focus so much on it? When the cry is constantly, “Fight stigma!” is positive change actively promoted?

Is it enough to cry, "No Stigma"?

Is this helpful?

“Fight stigma” is a battle cry. Canada Goose Chilliwack Bomber In a battle, there are enemies. The enemies try to destroy each other. The people who perpetuate stigma by judging and ostracizing are being destructive. People with mental illness who are trying to just live life like everyone else meet barrier after barrier. But the anti-stigma campaigns are doing battle, too. ADIDAS ZX 750 “Fight stigma.” “Boo to the people who judge.” Okay. Fine. But then what? Do we want to stay and fight, or do we want to move forward? Believe me. I’m not brushing off stigma and it’s countering as unimportant. It is important. Currently, there are too many conversations like this one, extracted from the novel Leave of Absence: When William said nothing further, Rod continued, “I know I’ve said this before, but it really sucks that this happened to her. Leave of Absence CoverYou guys don’t deserve this. I hope they can help her. She hasn’t been the same for nearly two years, and that’s a shame. She used to be such a great person.” Used to be a great person? For a moment, William was speechless. Seton Hall Pirates Jerseys He knew Rod didn’t mean to be hurtful, but his comments stung. When he spoke, his voice was tinged with hurt and anger. “What the hell does that mean?” “Hey, no need to get pissed. I didn’t mean anything by it. She’s still Penelope and all, but just, well, you know…” Rod trailed off and made a vague gesture. “No. I don’t know.” “Come on. Schizophrenia…” Rod trailed off again, as if that single word said it all. “I don’t know what you’re getting at. Why don’t you enlighten me?” William challenged. “It’s gotta freak you out, man. It would freak anyone out. Doesn’t she think that aliens are going to abduct her, or that the CIA is out to get her or something like that? Aren’t you scared? People with schizophrenia are unpredictable and violent. Parajumpers en France What if voices tell her to kill you, William? You go to sleep one night, and she sneaks into the kitchen, grabs a knife, and stabs you or something.” Stereotypes abound, and they hurt. This description of schizophrenia is as common as it is incorrect. Parajumpers Femme Pas Cher Here, the stigma against mental illness destroyed a friendship. Things need to change. Nike Air Max 1 Femme But is crying “stigma” alone going to bring the needed changes? Perhaps it’s time to expand the stigma-fighting campaigns that exist. Stating that stigma needs to stop (and yes, it does) might not be enough. Perhaps more important than saying that stigma needs to stop is asserting that understanding needs to begin. Perhaps the Look Me in the Eye campaign, a movement to break down barriers between people, could be a positive model. Rather than calling for an end to the stigma against people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, this campaign calls for increased understanding and improved relationships. Is being rooted in a fight against stigma preventing forward movement? Personally, rather than telling someone to stop stigmatizing me, I’d like to give them a way to do it. I’d like to teach people what given mental illnesses are and are not as well as to show them how to look at each other’s heart.


Letter of Gratitude to My Readers, My Connections

Sep 3

I believe in gratitude. Nike Air Pegasus It’s great for our own mental health, it’s great for the well-being of others, and it’s great for human interaction in general. Bobby Rainey I write for, and I write novels. Nike SB Air Zoom Losing Elizabeth, Leave of Absence, My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, and Twenty-four Shadows (to be released by Apprentice House Press in 2016) seek to increase understanding of mental illness/mental health issues and empathy and compassion for those who live with such difficulties. Gratitude Toward Readers In my time as a mental health writer/novelist, I have had the privilege of meeting people in person and online. Many readers have gone through the trouble of contacting me through my website or through social media in order to share their thoughts about the novel. Nike Air Jordan 13 Womens I cherish all of these contacts, and I’ve attempted to show this in this letter. Canada Goose Junior Air Max Zero

To the dear readers of my books and articles:

Many of you have thanked me for writing these novels and articles. This touches me more deeply than I can possibly express. It is actually I who would like to thank you. When you tell me you experienced a deep emotional connection to Oliver, Penelope, Brian, Elizabeth, and other characters, my heart swells. I love that you laughed at the sock puppet incident and at Penelope’s explanation of the Kerffies. Canada Goose Ontario Parka I’m touched by your stories of the tears you shed out of empathy with one or more of the characters. Many of you, men and women alike, have gone out of your way to tell me how you personally identified with Oliver or Penelope or Brian or Elizabeth or others and have shared some of your experiences with me. Although I don’t know you, I will never forget you; you will be forever a part of my heart. Thank you. When you tell me that Leave of Absence helped increase your understanding for schizophrenia or for depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, my heart soared. When you tell me that you understand a friend or family member better after reading about Brian’s anxiety, you validate my work as well as me. You come from different backgrounds and are different ages and genders, yet together you’ve let me know that you understand these illnesses better than you ever have before. Many of you emphasized that, further, you understand the human side of these illnesses more deeply after reading this novel. NIKE AIR MAX 2018 I’ll always cherish this feeling that you have given me. When you contact me on Facebook or Twitter and give me feedback that you enjoy my posts and that they are helpful, I’m so happy because that’s what I want to do: be helpful. Canada Goose Trillium Parka New Balance 420 femme When you tell me that you like my positive messages, I feel positive. Nike Air Yeezy Womens When you tell me that one of these novels grabbed you and you were compelled to keep reading and reading, my heart leaps for joy. Umbro Speciali homme I’m so happy that you kept wondering “what if…” as you read. I’m thrilled that Losing Elizabeth is received the way I intended it to be, as a tool to help adolescents learn about toxic relationships and parents, teachers, school counselors, etc. Parajumpers Kodiak to use as a vehicle for discussion. ADIDAS ZX 750 BARATAS And imagine how wonderful I felt when once you told me that during a long power outage, you grabbed a flashlight and kept reading about Oliver and Penelope. To those of you who tell me you read straight through and skip chores or go to bed later than usual, I do apologize. However, I’m glad that you enjoy one of these novels enough to do that. Mens Air Max Shoes
Some of you tell me sometimes that you don’t usually read novels, because you don’t have the time or the patience or the connection to things you’ve tried to read, but you gave my novel a try and you loved it and couldn’t put it down. For being so engaged with my characters and their story, thank you.
When you tell me that you are still carrying these characters with you months after having finished it, my heart somersaults. How thrilled it makes me to know that you remember scenes from the book and feel the emotion or that you encounter something that reminds you of something in the story. Ohio State Buckeyes For keeping these men, women, adolescents, and children alive with you, thank you. I write for empathy and understanding and connection. Parajumpers Homme I always hope that my characters and real people would connect with each other. I aim for the same with my column and other articles on HealthyPlace.


Stigma is Bullying

Sep 10

There’s a scene in the novel Leave of Absence in which Penelope and Oliver, patients in a behavioral health hospital, are waiting for a group session to start. Because of her schizophrenia, Penelope feels as though she doesn’t even fit in in a behavioral health center: “When they entered the room, some participants stared and others blatantly averted their gaze. As usual, Oliver and Penelope sat in the back of the room. asics lyte 3 blu uomo Other people came in, but not a single person sat next to them, and the chairs on either side of them remained empty. Penelope leaned toward Oliver and whispered, “I wonder if people just hate me or if they’re afraid they might catch what I have. It’s been like this for almost two years. Do you see why I can’t do this to William? I don’t want him to be shunned by the world because of me. Nike Air Force 1 It feels really awful, and I can’t do that to him.” She looked down at her hands and picked at her nails.” This shunning that devastates her is known as stigma. Parajumpers Femme Masterpiece Celine Stigma’s impact is hurtful; in a poll, a high percentage of people indicated that they would rather not associate in various ways with someone who has a mental illness. The numbers are shocking. Canada Goose Banff Parka Mujer Air Jordan 9 What, though, do they actually mean for someone experiencing mental illness? It’s very easy to hear the word stigma and understand that it implies negative judgment against a group of people (in this particular case, it’s against people with mental illness). Alfonzo Dennard But it’s not always easy to verbalize the implications of stigma. Parajumpers Masterpiece Long Bear Doudoune What happens to someone who faces stigma? With stigma, someone is judged negatively. NIKE AIR JORDAN 1 RETRO No one ever likes to be judged negatively, of course. Who among us hopes for a really harsh performance evaluation at work? Stigma, though goes deeper than this. nike air max 1 ultra moire homme A bad review at work is based on things someone does. Stigma is based on a personal trait. Stigma, then, is based on who someone is.

Stigma is judging someone for who they are, and it leads to shame.

Stigma is judging someone for who they are, and it leads to shame.

This type of judgement actually perpetuates the stigma and stereotypes against people experiencing mental illness. This type of judgment is a form of prejudice (of pre-judging). It’s looking at only one aspect of a person rather than at the whole picture. Parajumpers 2016 Parajumpers It’s seeing mental illness rather than the whole person who’s experiencing it. Moncler Doudounes This is what a person facing stigma “hears” (if not through direct words, through actions like when no one would sit by Penelope in the above scene): You are different. You are strange. Roshe Run For Womens
You aren’t good enough to hire. You aren’t good enough to hang out with. You are worthless. Mujer Air Jordan 4 You. Are. Mental Illness. Nike Free Hypervenom You are mental illness. See how this idea intensifies stigma and prejudice? You are “schizophrenic.” “You are bipolar.” You. Are. Crazy. Air Jordan 9 Retro You are the flu? No. Canada Goose Heli-Arctic Parka You have the flu. You are asthma? No. You have asthma. You are depression? No. You have depression. (Or even better, you are experiencing depression. Wording it this way further removes it from one’s identity and reinforces that any mental illness is, like asthma, something a person has to deal with rather than who someone is.) When someone is criticized for something he/she did, he/she might feel embarrassed. When someone is criticized for who he/she is, he/she feels shame. Jonathan Casillas Shame is a feeling of worthlessness. Moncler Doudounes Shame is painful. Stigma leads to shame and can create isolation, loneliness, and self-loathing. bullying Think back, for a moment, to middle school (or, depending on your age, to junior high; for me it was junior high). Air Jordans For Kids For most of us, being different meant the risk of ostracism, and committing a social faux pas (which involved even the slightest deviation from “normal” behavior) resulted in at best a bit of ridicule and a worst downright bullying. It’s an awful experience. I have never heard anyone say that if, given a chance, they’d go back and do middle school all over again. Burberry Echarpe Most people I’ve talked to (yes, I have conversations like this) say emphatically that noting would be worth experiencing the nightmare of middle school ever again. The reason for this is not because of the rigorous academic coursework. Mens Air Jordan 12 It’s not because of the cafeteria food (although I’m sure that the lunches aren’t really missed). Manteau Parajumpers Femme Newport NIKE TENNIS CLASSIC ULTRA FLYKNIT It’s because of the judgment of the other students. Adidas Superstar Homme Middle school is a time when kids feel scrutinized constantly for every little thing and bullied for any deviation from the norm. Yeezy 350 Boost Parajumpers Homme Big Bend Luckily, many people no longer experience the stress and fear of harassment that happens in middle school. Canada Goose Rideau Parka Those human beings, though, who experience mental illness and face the stigma associated with it, perpetually live in middle school.


Suicidal Thoughts are Serious, but They Don’t have to be the End

Sep 10

Quietly, almost pleadingly, he asked, “What, exactly, do you suggest I do right now? I can’t be here in Fairmont. It hurts too much. I am completely and totally devastated. What you are telling me makes a little sense, but I just don’t know how to go on.” (Oliver Graham in Leave of Absence) Devastation. Uncertainty. The desire to die simply to end the pain (in Oliver’s case, of loss and depression). The lack of understanding of how to continue to live. This turmoil is common for someone considering ending his or her own life. The following account of suicidal ideation is based on thoughts and feelings of someone with whom I’ve spoken, someone who wishes to remain anonymous but has given me permission to write this perspective based on our conversation. We’re sharing this on World Suicide Prevention Day to help shed some light on a dark topic. On the outside, everything looked normal. Or at least I thought it did. I thought I hid all of the chaos going on inside, but maybe I didn’t hide it. I don’t really know, and I guess it really doesn’t matter. GS Air Jordan 14 I had been going to work, doing my job, coming home to family stuff, and starting over again every morning. Over the course of several months, my job was becoming increasingly stressful. There had been multiple layoffs which had everyone on edge. My workload was increasing, I didn’t like many of my new tasks, and I was afraid to talk to my supervisor about it because I didn’t want to be the next one laid off. My spouse and I have four kids, and we can’t do without my income. I did think about switching jobs, but that was depressing. Georgia Bulldogs It would just be the same thing in a different building. I wanted to look for something completely different, a different type of career, but I’m not qualified for anything else and I can’t afford to go to school. I mean, we’re saving for college for our kids. Who am I to selfishly use those resources? More and more I started to feel trapped and powerless. I saw a therapist twice, but it didn’t do any good. I knew it wouldn’t. Who was I trying to fool? I actually have been diagnosed with a mental illness (I’d really rather not say what one), but I don’t take the prescribed medication. Sometimes I really think I don’t need it because I feel great and things are fun again, but other times I know that’s a joke. It’s not therapy I need, it’s medication. Roll-Top Timberland Bottes Maybe it’s both. But I don’t feel like doing either. I want to feel better again, but I just don’t have much hope that those will work. I continued to feel worse and worse, and I felt like I had no options. I wasn’t being a good parent or spouse or employee and I came to realize that none of this was worth it. I couldn’t take it. And what kind of an awful person thinks that? I believed my family didn’t deserve me and would be much better off without me. Canada Goose Lodge If I made my death look like an accident, they would get my life insurance money. In a lot of ways, they’d all be way better off without me than with me. The more I thought about it, the more I thought suicide would be the right thing for all of us. Part of me still wasn’t sure, though, so I called an old friend. This friend got mad at me, though, and we haven’t spoken since. That hurts, and at the time it just further proved to me that I’m not good enough to be alive. One evening, I told my family I needed to run to the store. Parajumpers Windbreaker Mary Todd I left, and I wasn’t planning on returning ever again. Then the image of my kids popped into my mind. I saw all four of them sitting in a row on the couch, crying. Air Jordan Retro 1 I realized that they wouldn’t understand. They’d be hurt and confused and angry and would have to finish their childhood with only one parent. I turned around and went home. Later that night, although it was difficult, I finally talked to my spouse. Jordan Hydro 5 I’m getting help. It’s still difficult and my thoughts of suicide sometimes return. But I stay connected, I’m following through on the help I need, and I hold onto the thought of my kids. nike air max 95 homme It’s a slow process, but I’m glad I’m alive for it. Myth: Suicide can’t be prevented. If someone is set on taking their own life, there is nothing that can be done to stop them. Fact: Suicide is preventable. The vast majority of people contemplating suicide don’t really want to die. They are seeking an end to intense mental and/or physical pain. Most have a mental illness. Interventions can save lives. See this and other important information at The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Air Jordan 10 For immediate help (24/7), call If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For a powerful video slideshow set to music that provides information and resources, watch this goose-bump-inducing video from MrBandKid2012. It only takes four minutes of your life. Suicidal thoughts are serious, but they don’t have to be the end.


Nothing Could Fix the Hole, and Nothing Could Fix Her: Penelope’s Experience with Schizophrenia

Sep 9

The novel Leave of Absence illustrates what certain mental illnesses are truly like and how they impact real people, real human beings. Because of a traumatic event and loss, Oliver Graham has PTSD, major depression, and complicated mourning (which is not in and of itself a mental illness, but it is a struggle that, in Oliver’s case, is intertwined with PTSD and depression).

Penelope Baker is another major character in Leave of Absence. She had a career she cherished, was engaged to a man she loved dearly, and was enjoying the pursuit of the life she always dreamed of. When she was twenty-eight years old, though, she began to experience odd symptoms. They worsened until she was hospitalized and subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia, and her entire world was shaken. When the novel opens, Penelope is in the hospital (Airhaven behavioral health center) once again. She’s thirty years old; two years have passed since her diagnosis. She’s still engaged, but she doesn’t think she should be. The novel follows Penelope and shows just what this illness is like for her and those around her. In the spirit of increasing understanding mental illness and empathy for those who live with it, here’s a chapter from Leave of Absence, the chapter where we first meet Penelope. Penelope’s different patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving are evident from her very first appearance in the story:

Penelope is like a mandala: intricate, complex, beautiful, and unique. But schizophrenia makes her feel incomplete.

Penelope is like a mandala: intricate, complex, beautiful, and unique. But schizophrenia makes her feel incomplete.

Penelope Baker sat alone at a table in a quiet corner of the day area of Side B, coloring. Many different coloring pages were scattered about. They were various mandalas—pictures and geometric shapes, some simple, some elaborate—that she had gathered from the art therapy group that met each morning, each in a different state of completion, but none fully colored. The sheet currently in front of her was an elaborate flower with petals that grew progressively smaller as they spiraled inward toward the center. She bent forward over the picture, her face close to the paper, and her long hair spilled down over portions of the image. She moved a gray crayon swiftly back and forth over one of the larger petals and talked out loud to herself. “No…This…is…very…wrong. Shapes…and…colors are…important. No. …This is…very…very…wrong.” She didn’t look up when Dr. Daniels, her psychiatrist, approached. “Well, good morning, Penelope. It looks like you’re hard at work today.” Penelope continued to color the single petal without looking up. Seemingly unfazed by Penelope’s lack of response, he pulled up a chair and continued. “Did you start all these this morning?” Penelope stopped coloring and looked up. Eventually, she answered, pausing as she spoke, as though she were thinking about her responses. “Yes. I started them all this morning. …Yes. Did I start them all just now?…Yes, I did. I had…great ideas for them…but she took the ideas…out of…my…head. They just…disappeared…when I was working. …They went completely out of my head, and…my mind went blank. …That’s why I had to…start new ones. I started…all…of these…this morning…I wish she…wouldn’t…have taken…the ideas out of my…head when I was…coloring. She doesn’t…understand…the…meaning…of the…shapes…and…colors…like…I…do. The…Kerffies…only told…me…and…I…needed to…use…their meanings…but she…just…took…them…right out…of…my head and…she…won’t…give…them…back.” “That must be frustrating. Who took the ideas out of your head?” Again, Penelope took her time before answering. UAB Blazers Finally, she said, impatiently, “Eleanor…Roosevelt. Canada Goose Borden Bomber You should…know that…by now. …She…always…does that to…me.” Penelope’s voice became softer, kinder. “She just…zapped…them away…right while I was…working. Adidas Superstar Femme Rose So…I had to start…a new one…every time. And she…wanted me…to use a different color each…time too…She…doesn’t…understand…the…meanings of…the colors. …She took my ideas and…then told me her own ideas. …This time she told me…to use gray. Mrs.…Roosevelt told me…she would do…her magic and…turn it into a beautiful color.” “Did you want to use gray?” “No,” she mumbled after a long pause. “Did I…want to use gray?…Of course I didn’t…want to use…gray.” Her eyes suddenly grew wide, and she glanced about, frightened. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Please…don’t tell…her…that. I…didn’t mean…to say that. Please don’t…tell her.” “You’re afraid of what would happen if I told her?” Penelope had resumed coloring the single petal. Frantically, she rubbed the crayon back and forth across the single petal. She made a small tear in the paper, but still she continued. “Penelope? What do you think would happen?” “I don’t…want to talk…about it…anymore.…You need to…go away now.” “How about this: I’d like to stay, but we’ll change the subject.” He waited patiently while Penelope scribbled her crayon up and down, back and forth, with hard, swift strokes. The tear widened, and she colored on the surface of the table. Dr. Daniels gently placed his hand on the paper. “Penelope. Look at what you’re doing. You’re coloring on the table. Slide your crayon over.” Penelope didn’t look up. At first, she didn’t even seem to have heard Dr. Daniels at all. Slowly, though, she moved her hand over, away from the gaping hole she had made. As she did this, the speed of her strokes slowed down and eventually stopped. She continued to stare at her paper. “It…isn’t changing to a pretty…color.…I’ve…angered her.” “Is she telling you that she’s angry?” She cocked her head as though she were listening. She concentrated for almost a full minute before responding. “No.…She isn’t…talking to me…right…now. I…think she is too…busy.” “Doing what?” “I don’t…know.” Penelope stared at Dr. Daniels. Her face was nearly expressionless, but the corners of her mouth drooped into a slight frown. “She will…be back.” “Has she been coming around as much since you started your medication again?” Penelope fidgeted in her chair. She snatched up her crayon and resumed her activity. “You’ve become agitated,” Dr. Daniels observed. “What is your body saying right now?” “I…I…” “Penelope?” “Your…glasses…are…circles.…Circles…mean…caring…but…they are…silver and…I…haven’t…learned…the meaning…of…that…so…you…need to…go…now. I have to…color. Just…go now.” Dr. Daniels jotted notes down on his notepad. He clicked his pen closed, tucked it into its holder, and closed his leather padfolio. “These medications take time to work, and you’ve only been on them again for six days. They will help, though. Tonight we’ll be increasing your dosages, and that may help you feel a difference. We’ll talk more about it later.” He watched Penelope. Her fingers squeezed the crayon tightly, and her entire forearm moved furiously. Again, her head was bent forward and her hair hid her face from view. She uttered not a sound. Clearly, she was done talking. When he said goodbye, she gave no acknowledgement that she heard him. She colored and colored in an attempt to placate Mrs. Roosevelt. Sometimes Mrs. Roosevelt talked about things that didn’t make any sense. When she did that, it sounded like a loudspeaker in Penelope’s head, like she was a spectator at a bizarre event she didn’t fully understand. Other times, Mrs. Roosevelt told Penelope things she should do. This morning, it was coloring. But Mrs. Roosevelt was being mean and critical. That looks dumb. Why would you do it that way? Your idea of art is pathetic, so I’m not letting you think about art at all. And then she just deleted Penelope’s thoughts. Mrs. Roosevelt didn’t understand that Penelope’s work wasn’t based on human ideas of art. Penelope followed the Kerffie language, a complex system of shapes and colors even she didn’t fully understand. Mrs. Roosevelt didn’t comprehend this, so she had emptied Penelope’s mind. Penelope’s mind just went blank, and she didn’t know what to do next. Then Mrs. Roosevelt had shouted at her, What the hell are you just sitting there for? Don’t be so goddamn lazy! Pick up the crayon and color. No, not that crayon. Use gray. You’re not creative enough to choose your own color. I’ll work my special magic and turn it into a beautiful color when you’re done. You don’t have the right to choose a beautiful color. Don’t just sit there. Work! No. Not that picture. A different one. And remember—if you don’t do what I want, I will hurt you. Penelope didn’t want to be hurt; therefore, she did what she was told. Plus, she wanted to please Mrs. Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt had been Penelope’s heroine for years and years, and it hurt her feelings when her beloved idol disapproved of her, especially since she had always thought that Mrs. Roosevelt was a kind, compassionate woman. What was so bad about Penelope that she brought out this wonderful woman’s wrath? Thankfully, though, it seemed that Mrs. Roosevelt had gone away for a while. She did that from time to time. Penelope didn’t know where Mrs. Nike Air Max 120 Roosevelt went, but, despite the fact that she admired the great woman, she was always glad when she was gone. Actually, “glad” was perhaps the wrong word. She was never glad anymore. When Mrs. Roosevelt was around, Penelope was anxious and tense and afraid. When she was gone, there was room for different feelings. When Mrs. Roosevelt took her occasional breaks, Penelope was desolate and hollow and depressed. Always, always­­—whether the woman was hanging around harassing her or off doing who knows what—Penelope felt “off.” Simply put, Penelope knew she wasn’t normal. And this knowledge wasn’t just from the conversation with Dr. Daniels when she was first diagnosed. “Penelope has schizophrenia,” he’d said so matter-of-factly, as though he were telling them she had a cold. Without waiting for a response from either her or her fiancé William, he had continued his delivery of her diagnosis. “It’s a very individual disorder; it looks a bit different in each person who has it. Penelope, in your case it’s called undifferentiated schizophrenia. It’s different from the paranoid version we so often see stereotyped by Hollywood.” Disgusted, Penelope pushed the memory of the rest of that conversation out of her mind. No, it was not just from that conversation that she knew she wasn’t normal. It was more than knowing the label. She was aware that she was different. She wasn’t like everyone else, and she hated that. She hated knowing it too, because knowing it made it all even worse. Dr. Daniels didn’t hate it. He thought it was wonderful that she was so aware of herself. When they first talked about her feelings about being different, he had been thrilled. He had called her awareness “insight.” About half of all people with schizophrenia lacked insight into their condition, he had explained. Of course, that meant the other half were aware that the hallucinations, delusions, and everything else associated with the illness were not things most people experienced. According to Dr. Daniels, having this insight meant the person had a better chance of managing schizophrenia. Penelope didn’t feel that her insight helped her one bit. She wondered if she would actually be able to feel happiness if she didn’t know how different she was. Sure, Mrs. Roosevelt would continue to lurk and beleaguer her, and the Kerffies would keep teaching her about their language and ideas. They would keep taking Penelope’s thoughts away and leave her mind frighteningly empty, and then invade her by forcing their own thoughts and ideas into her mind. She would probably continue to physically feel the source of the Kerffies, too, as they tickled her or poked her to make sure she knew they were right there beside her. But what if she didn’t know this was abnormal? Would ignorance be bliss? Would she just be able to live life thinking that she was okay? Certainly that would be better than the way she experienced it now. How was she supposed to feel happiness, or even slight contentment, when she knew she was mentally ill? She was only thirty years old, and the life she had known and loved for twenty-eight of those years was over. Penelope looked down at her coloring pages. They were all incomplete, just like she was. She stared at the hole she had made in one of the papers. How fitting. The picture was broken, just like Penelope. New Balance 574 femme Tape wouldn’t work. Nothing could fix that hole, and nothing could fix her. You think you’re broken? Mrs. Roosevelt was back. I’m here with you. Nike Air Max I’m not good enough for you? You ungrateful bitch! You want to be “fixed?” I’ll fix you. Eat the crayons. All of them. Chew them up and swallow them. Penelope stared, wide-eyed, at the pile of crayons on the table. Mrs. Parajumpers Gobi Roosevelt must have sensed her apprehension, because she lowered her voice to a whisper and crooned, It’s okay. Please trust me. You know I’m magic. Eat the crayons, and they’ll plug up the hole that’s inside you, and I’ll make them glow brightly in all their dazzling colors. You’ll be dazzling then, Penelope. The whole world will be in awe of your alluring radiance. Daniel Fells They’ll admire you again. They’ll admire you as much as they admire me. You’ll see. Try it. Eat the crayons, now. Penelope wanted to be better, to be complete, to be attractive again, and, if eating the crayons would transform her, then eat them she would. One by one, she cracked them into pieces. Snap! Snap! Snap! She split the wax, slashed through the wrappers, slid her fingers into the stack, and shoveled smidgens of color into her mouth. A tech chose that moment to check up on her. “Penelope! Stop!” She grabbed one of the coloring sheets from her table and held it under Penelope’s face. “Spit it out.” Penelope grabbed for more crayon pieces and continued to chew vigorously. The tech quickly pushed the pile across the table, sending broken bits rolling and scattering onto the floor. Penelope cried out and tried to swallow. The crayons wouldn’t go down, and she gagged. Involuntarily, she spit them out onto the paper that was still held under her face. “No! Claire, why did you do that? I have to have those!” Penelope shouted and grabbed at the paper. Claire crumpled it up and shoved it into the pocket of her smock, so Penelope dove onto the floor to snatch up more pieces. Claire intervened. She knelt down by Penelope and gently covered her hands with her own. “Stop, Penelope,” Claire said gently. “Eating crayons is bad for you. I need you to stop.” Just forget about it, you worthless loser, Mrs. Roosevelt sneered. I was going to “fix” you. You only had to do one little thing, but you screwed it up, just like you screw up everything. You ruin everything. William knows what I mean, doesn’t he, Penelope? You don’t deserve to eat those crayons anymore. I won’t help you. Angry and hurt, Penelope jerked her hands away from Claire’s. She sprang to her feet. “Mrs. Roosevelt was going to fix me, but you ruined it!” “Let’s talk about it. Would you like to sit here, or should we walk and talk? We can do laps around the day area.” Mrs. Roosevelt shouted at Penelope. She summoned others, people Penelope didn’t even know. And from nowhere and everywhere, the Kerffies joined in too. There were so many of them, and they all spoke at once. Penelope couldn’t understand what they were saying. This wouldn’t happen to her anymore if she had only been able to eat the crayons. Mrs. Illinois State Redbirds Jerseys Roosevelt had been right; she screwed up everything. Maybe she could have eaten them, though, if Claire hadn’t come along. “Where do you want to talk, Penelope?” Between the shouting and Claire’s chatter, Penelope couldn’t think. She grabbed her head. “I…” What did she want to say? If everyone would go away, she could think again. She had to make herself heard above all the noise. “Leave…me alone!” She yelled at Claire. Even her heart was upset. Masterpiece Kodiak Doudoune It pounded angrily in her chest as though it were trying to bruise her on the inside. Her head felt her hands tremble, and it felt their sweatiness too. “What would help you right now?” Claire remained calm. Even though Penelope wanted her to leave, she appreciated Claire’s soothing voice. “I…need…a…cigarette.” It took a long time to form the words because of all of the roaring voices. Claire glanced at the clock at the wall. “Well, you’re in luck, my dear, because the morning break is going on right now.


Schizophrenia’s Negative Symptoms Don’t Mean Bad

Sep 8

Schizophrenia can involve positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms.

Schizophrenia can involve positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms.

Schizophrenia is a mental illness with both positive and negative symptoms. NCAA Jersey Shop The terms can be misleading. SMU Mustangs Jerseys They sound like judgments, but they’re not. Positive symptoms are things added to the person (such as hallucinations, delusions, and disorganization), negative symptoms are things taken away from the person, and cognitive symptoms are problems in thought processing. Landon Collins Schizophrenia isn’t crazy or violent. Schizophrenia is very individualized and the symptoms show up differently for different people; further, schizophrenia ranges in severity from mild to severe. The negative symptoms of schizophrenia aren’t bad. Again, they are things that are removed from the person. Negative symptoms can be categorized with “A” words: affective flattening, alogia, avolition, and possibly anhedonia. One of the most noticeable, especially when someone has known a person for quite a while before his/her diagnosis, is a restricted range of emotional reactions. This is also known as having a flat affect or affective flattening. Someone with schizophrenia often displays a diminished range of emotion. Many times his/her face is nearly expressionless. NCAA Jersey Shop Someone might not always maintain eye contact. Something that’s important to realize is that this flat affect is how someone with schizophrenia might appear; however, this is not indicative of how they feel. Canada Goose Citadel Parka People I know or have worked with who deal with schizophrenia very much experience a range of human emotions. TEAM COURT A young man I knew had desires and hopes and dreams. He sometimes became frustrated when he couldn’t express himself and felt that he was misunderstood. (Who doesn’t become frustrated upon feeling unheard?) Many times he was sad because of what he was experiencing. He also had a sense of humor. None of this was apparent by looking at him, but it became very obvious when interacting with him as the true, authentic person he is. The second “A” word is alogia. UCF Knights Alogia a reduced productivity of thought and/or speech, which means that someone might speak slowly or haltingly or might take longer than others to formulate a response during a conversation. The third “A” word that can be among the negative symptomology is avolition. This involves a reduction in goal-directed behavior. Canada Goose Banff Parka ADIDAS TEAM COURT It might be challenging for a person to start a task or participate in a task. This can affect someone’s work or social life. In extreme cases it can make it difficult for someone to do the tasks necessary for their own daily care. The last of the “A” words above is anhedonia. This is a lack of pleasure. Asics Gel Lyte 3 Femme Bleu Doudoune Moncler Pas Cher Sometimes someone with schizophrenia might have a hard time taking pleasure in something. This one, though, is a tricky one to pinpoint. A person experiencing anhedonia, whether or not they have schizophrenia, might actually be dealing with depression. Or it could possibly be a side effect of medication rather than a feature of schizophrenia itself. UGG Classic Short Another caveat when considering anhedonia is that schizophrenia can involve a flat affect which can make it falsely appear that someone doesn’t feel the full range of emotions. Asics Gel Nimbus 18 Homme It’s good to be aware that anhedonia can be a possibility with schizophrenia, but it’s important to avoid giving this too much power. Schizophrenia also has cognitive effects. These aren’t part of the criteria used for diagnosis as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the tome published by the American Psychiatric Association and used heavily by mental health professional. Cognitive symptoms, though, are present with schizophrenia. Someone with schizophrenia can sometimes have issues with memory/working memory, attention, problem-solving, or processing speed. Air Jordan 1 For Kids This does not mean that someone with schizophrenia can’t think and reason and learn! This does not equate with lower intelligence. It can be conceptualized as difficulty with the way a person thinks and processes information rather than as an inability to think and process information. In the novel Leave of Absence, Penelope, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, has a flat affect. ADIDAS ULTRA BOOST New Balance 420 femme The content of what she expresses, though, belies this outward appearance. It is clear to her friend Oliver and her fiancée William that she very much experiences the gamut of emotions. Parajumpers Femme Masterpiece Long Also, she experiences alogia. Until her medication begins to work, her speech is deliberate and halting. She wrestles with anhedonia, but this is part of her depression. Wake Forest Demon Deacons As is the case with everyone with schizophrenia, Penelope doesn’t experience every single negative symptom. This concept is important. The positive symptoms are delineated in a group of four (hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, and disorganized/catatonic behavior), and the negative symptoms are lumped together as a single concept (descriptively called “negative symptoms”). To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, one must experience at least two from this list of five items.
The positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia can be classified as psychotic symptoms. "Psychotic" just means things that are related to impaired or distorted reality. It doesn't actually mean "unstable" even though it's used that way sometimes in slang terms.

The positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia can be classified as psychotic symptoms. “Psychotic” just means things that are related to impaired or distorted reality. It doesn’t actually mean “unstable” even though it’s used that way sometimes in slang terms.

There are a lot of ways to experience schizophrenia, and the symptoms differ. New Balance 1600 femme Each individual who has schizophrenia is unique.