Continue the Story

I wanted to write about the therapy session I had yesterday but a piece of news had shocked me so much last night that I feel it pertinent to address.

The mental health community has been rocked by the news that Amy Bleuel, the founder of Project Semicolon, has passed away from suicide. She had been an amazing advocate, a strong voice within the community against the stigma of mental health, a positive, and encouraging person to all those who struggle with suicide. So when the news came to me, I was shocked. Not only that she had passed, but that she had died from suicide.

I felt it ironic because just last night, when my temporary tattoo kit had arrived, I decided to tattoo my arm with a semicolon. When I have something tangible that I can see, touch, and read daily, it helps me keep going. So I figured if I had a tattoo of the semicolon, I’d be able to look at it and realize that my story isn’t over.

Then the news came.

It made me think.

I told my psychologist yesterday that sometimes I feel guilty for being an advocate, or for doing something contrary to what he and I have discussed because I know I shouldn’t beat myself up, I know I shouldn’t feel the way I do, etc, but I still end up in the anxious/depressed situation.
“S, sometimes I feel really guilty… I feel guilty because I hear your voice in my head saying, ‘Jules, these thoughts? They’re not your reality. They’re just thoughts. They’re fleeting, which means they won’t stick around for very long. But they don’t define your reality’ and I think to myself, ‘S’ is right. Why am I moping then? Why can’t I stop moping? Why do I want to just die?’ and I feel guilty,” I’d said to him.
He sat up. He always pays extra attention when I talk about something that relates to our therapeutic relationship. He’s always very conscientious of the fact that sometimes the things he says could affect me.
“Oh yeah?” He asked.
“Yeah… I feel guilty because I know that recovery isn’t a straight path upwards. That sometimes I may regress. I know that…”
As I said that, S smiled because I had answered myself. Recovery isn’t linear.
The news of Amy Bleuel’s passing gives a lot of clarity to the issue. It teaches me that every single day is a battle, and sometimes, you may lose but hopefully if you have a good support system, you’ll never have to consider losing. Or ever find yourself at a place where you could potentially do some serious harm.
 
It’s awful to lose someone to cancer, or a disease, or old age, or accidents, but how much more awful is it to lose someone to suicide? This is in some ways a wake up call because it’s telling us that if we don’t check in with the people we love or give them our support, we may lose them forever.
 
All it takes is for one person to say “I care” to the person struggling with depression, for them to realize that they are worthy of love, and life. All it took for me were people who cared. The staff at CAPS had been that for me, but since then, my support system has grown. I’ve slowly learned to start loving myself as well through that.
I know what it’s like to stand in the dark, feeling like I’m all alone and that my only choice is to kill myself. And now, I also know what it’s like to be in the dark, but then have someone reach out their hand to me to walk me back to the light. Knowing these two sides, I really want to encourage anyone and everyone who is reading this to reach out to their loved ones, to let them know how much you care for them.
If you’re hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out. Someone will reach back. Please stay. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can’t feel it—and you are worth your life. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. If you’d like to talk to a peer, http://warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you don’t want to talk on the phone, you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. (**Note: I stole this from Facebook, from Dese’Rae Lynn Stage)
RIP, Amy Bleuel, you have made an impact to many – and I was one of them.

Of Sex, HIV, and STIs

Promoting sexual health. (Note: I had to blur out my school’s name because this is a semi-anonymous blog)

So I performed my first duty today as a Health and Wellness Peer Educator. I was very excited and happy to be at the atrium of my college’s student campus center to promote sexual health by manning a booth for free HIV/STI testing. I told students about the Office that I represent as well as how important it was for us to get ourselves tested at least once a year – and perhaps more if engaging in higher risk activities such as unprotected sex.

I was happy to be there and to do my part in busting the stigma and myths surrounding sex, condoms, HIV, STIs and healthy sex. I even took an HIV/STI test myself because I wanted to show my peers that HIV/STI is no laughing matter l – that even if I wasn’t sexually active, that my wellness is important and getting tested just means that I’m ensuring my health.

While we promoted the free HIV/STI testing, we also handed out safe sex kits (which contained a pamphlet about safe sex, a couple of condoms, a mint, a business card for students who wish to contact our Office, as well as a packet of lubricant), and condoms. Some of the condoms were flavored, some were just very creatively wrapped.

As I did my part, one of my colleagues said to me, “Oh Jules! I just love how comfortable you are being you! It’s so amazing and I really want to be like you!” – I was taken aback.

Comfortable being me???

I’ve never been comfortable being me! Although, now that she mentioned it…. It made me think. I had never felt more myself than I have been for the past month now. My haircut, my new wardrobe (with my plaid shirt that I wear as outerwear, and my geeky t-shirts that I wear as innerwear, my skate shoes, my jean chain, and the occasional leather bracelet), my training as a Peer Educator, my growing boldness to speak as well as to disagree with people when necessary, my eagerness to help, and my changing perspectives have made me more confident. I guess that confidence is then deemed as my being comfortable being me.

And this is why people don’t believe me when I tell them that I struggle really badly with self harm and suicidal tendencies. How can you believe it when I’m always so happy, boisterous, excitable, and confident?

Anyway… When I came home, an old friend from church messaged me because she was horrified that I had been giving out free condoms. She told me that as a believer of Christ, that giving out condoms implied that I was condoning sex outside of marriage. I disagreed with her and told her that the Office of Health and Wellness believes in advocating for all available options and then letting the person decide the best option that suits them without judgment.

I told her that if I didn’t give out free condoms, educate people on safe sex practices, squash some ridiculous misconceptions about HIV/STIs and sex, and help destroy the stigma, then I would do more harm than good. If people want to have sex outside of marriage, they’re going to have sex outside of marriage regardless of whether or not I hand out condoms. However, I believe that if I can provide people with the safe options to do so, and help them avoid infecting others and/or contracting diseases, then I would err on that side.

I’m a little upset by our conversation, to be honest. On one hand, it made me wonder if I was suddenly less of a Christian because I was handing out free condoms and therefore would be seen as condoning sex outside of marriage, but on the other hand, I stand by my belief because I think it’s unwise to preach abstinence only when that doesn’t stop the spread of diseases and ignorance. I’m simultaneously proud of myself for being able to disagree, but also worried that I am now a bad Christian or that I’ve let God down.

Many days, I struggle with trying to live my life the way I think I should, and feeling condemned by people and by God.

When “Suicide” Is Nonchalantly Used As An Excuse

Recently, I was in the room when a conversation began between some people. Normally, it wouldn’t have been a conversation that I would’ve been interested in as one of the participants of the conversation, a girl, was talking about getting something cosmetically done to herself. What has made this conversation stick to my mind was because part of the conversation touched on the topic of mental health – more specifically, on the topic of suicide.

It was a harmless enough conversation when it began. Girl said she wanted to get a piercing done but had to skip class to do so. Girl was worried about the excuse she would have to come up with in order to skip class. She and everyone else in the room started brainstorming things she could tell her Professor. Even I chimed in with a suggestion that she just tell her Professor that she can’t attend due to personal reasons – why go into specifics, right? That was my reasoning.

Girl wanted to use the excuse that someone in her family had passed away. I told her that it was a weak excuse unless she could produce proof that she had attended a funeral. Besides, I said, who wants to use such a terrible excuse because it would mean condemning some family member to some death – even if said family member was fictional, I felt that it was pushing things too far.

After a somewhat lengthy discussion between her and the other people in the room about what excuse she should come up with, someone said, “You know what you could do? Just say that your friend committed suicide.”

Just as the words came out of his mouth, I felt like I had just been punched in the gut. Those words were impactful, even if he hadn’t meant it at all. “Yeah, someone I knew had committed suicide once and I was here working. When the call came, I went and told our director that I needed that day off and when I told him why, he asked no further questions. So if you told your Professor that, you’ll be off the hook for sure! No one wants to talk about suicides…”

“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” I said to that person. I didn’t know how to feel at that point. I was taken off guard.

“Yeah, it wasn’t really someone I was close to but you know, part of the family and all…”

I excused myself from the room after that. I couldn’t hear anymore. I felt like I should’ve said something but between being taken off guard and feeling fearful that people would want to know more about my own mental illnesses and whether I too was suicidal, I had to leave. I don’t know why but at that moment, I felt ashamed and fearful. I was afraid that someone would say, “Hey Jules! Don’t you have mental illnesses? Are you suicidal too?” I can’t explain it but at that moment, I had to flee.

And flee I did because I left the room, while feeling my heart pound in my ear. I had to tell myself that the person who had said that didn’t mean it, that it wasn’t personal, that I wasn’t the one he was talking about.

Despite telling myself that I am unashamed of having mental illnesses, when it comes down to it, a face-to-face interaction is difficult to do. I know now, that when it comes down to a verbal confrontations, I really still don’t have the courage to face up to the person who had said whatever stigmatizing thing they said and tell them how I really feel about the situation. It makes me feel small and weak.

At the same time, I also made made me wonder if they would have said the same things had they had known that I was suicidal or whether it was something that they had said because they didn’t think through their words. If I had been better prepared, maybe I would have said something about the comment.

I might not have been mad – I don’t get offended when people talk about mental health topics in a negative way – but I might have used that opportunity to just shed some light about mental illnesses and mental health. It might help the students realize that mental health topics aren’t jokes to be thrown around.

I am disappointed by how I reacted but I hope that in the future, should something like this arise again, that I would be better prepared to give a more positive response. I hope to shed the fear and shame – it is still an ongoing thing that S and I are working on.

What It’s Like Explaining Depression To Your Asian Parents

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to write a post about what it is like to have Chinese parents who aren’t supportive of the fact that I have mental illnesses. I never did because it is a very painful and difficult subject for me to broach.

Maybe some day, I’ll be able to approach this topic with more strength than I have right now and be able to talk about it.

Thankfully, for now, someone else has done it in comic form. Everything in it is true – everything that I have personally heard myself are in the comic.

So if you’ve ever wondered how Asian parents treat their mentally ill children, look no further than here:

What It’s Like Explaining Depression To Your Asian Parents

Rebranding Shame

This is an inspiring TED Talk. It talks about how preconceptions and labels affect us – this is from the context of those who are affected by mental illnesses.

Labels on those with mental illnesses create stigma which could lead to people not wanting to find help because when someone feels judged, why would they reach out, right?

At the same time, labels can also be useful and helpful – though we do need to be careful about how we use those labels.

I think I’m now much more comfortable with my label as a “depressed, anxious, ADHD sufferer” than I was when I initially was diagnosed. Like Adi Jaffe, I have become public about my labels and have taken responsibility of those labels so that I can use them to better myself. It’s definitely a journey and a process but I’m coming to terms with who I am – flaws and all – and I want to see the more positive sides of my mental illnesses than just the negatives.

I hope that some day I can be as inspiring as these TED Talks speakers and share my story in such a way that I can not only inspire others to share their stories but also help them overcome their own roadblocks, perceived/self stigma and better themselves! Hey, I can dream, right?

Thoughts From Therapy – Session #27

Note: This is going to be quite a raw post – one that I have some doubts about sharing just because of how raw it is and how personal it is in some ways. But I’m going to share it anyway because I want to process this out loud and see if I get any responses… I’m going to put the “Read More” tag just because I want people who reads on after this line to really read it because they want to know and because they actually care since it’ll be a long post.


Continue reading

The Speech To Make A Difference

Tonight was speech night where I talked about how stress can be beneficial for health. It was anticlimactic and a dull speech but I’ve been struggling so much lately that I just wanted to do something simple and something I didn’t have to spend too much time preparing for.

It wasn’t really something I was passionate about but I think I presented it pretty well. I even went to the Speakers’ Lab to get some extra credit.

My next (and last) speech though… Now that is a speech that I will work very hard on because not only will it be my last, I’ve decided that I will talk about mental health stigma. The final speech is a persuasive speech where we’re to convince the audience to actually do something – like sign a petition, take action etc. I decided on the stigma of mental health because I want this speech to make an impact on my classmates and it’s something I can leave my classmates with for the little time I’ve known them.

I am planning on making the final part of the speech – the “call to action” part – be where they can all pledge to help end the stigma of mental illnesses on campus by tweeting with the #IAmStigmaFree. I haven’t really figured out all the details yet but that’s what I’d like to do. I have been very inspired by many TED talks speeches lately and I hope to someday be a great speaker like those people. I want to make a change in my campus and to share with my fellow classmates that it’s ok to be mentally ill. It’s just as ok to have a mental illness than it is to have a physical one!

I hope my final speech will make the impact I’m hoping for. I hope it’ll get the attention it deserves because tonight’s speech really didn’t. Not only were lots of people on their phones, but probably only 3 people, aside from the teacher, we’re really listening. It’s pretty discouraging but I’m glad that at least I didn’t spend too much effort on it.

–.–.–

On an entirely different note, I nearly had a panic attack again today in art class. The instructor told us that we have to produce 12 different composition pieces in the next two weeks and knowing how much time and effort it takes to produce even one piece made me panic. I tried breathing techniques but couldn’t stop myself from feeling a lot of negative energy wash over me. I couldn’t quit shaking my legs violently from all the energy that built up inside of me. I thought art class would be easy for me this semester. It’s turning out to be more stressful than what I thought math would be!