Mental Illness Awareness Week

In honor of the work NAMI does, the first full week of October (10/5-11) is “Mental Illness Awareness Week.” People are encouraged to wear green, there’s apparently a solid green ribbon, and depending on your location there may be various events to raise awareness. People are also encouraged to “Tell your story and help inspire others!” – just be aware that the submission guidelines give NAMI permission to add or delete information as they see fit.

The phrases "It's time," "Mental illness affects everyone," and "Go green for Mental Illness Awareness Week" on a green background. There is a solid green ribbon in the center of the image.

Image from http://www.nami.org; Visitors are encouraged to post this as their Facebook profile picture and another image from the site as the banner on their timeline.

I have to admit, I’m not feeling particularly “inspired.” I’m pretty sure my “story” would be rejected because I don’t want to try to spin it (or allow it to be spun) to be a “message of hope” for other people. Frankly, I don’t think we need to spread “hope,” we need people to understand the harsh realities we and our loved ones face: the stigma, the uncertainty, the pain of thinking we’re getting better just to have another horrible day, the difficulty accessing mental healthcare, the ways in which our illnesses impact our relationships, etc. – basically, the stuff mental health bloggers post about year-round! If people really want to raise awareness, they should link to us. (Note: NAMI prohibits links to personal blogs or websites in their “You Are Not Alone” submission guidelines … but there’s nothing to keep someone from posting whatever links they want on their own social media pages, etc.)

Some places to get started (besides this blog): A Canvas of the Minds, Blog for Mental Health, The Mental Health Writers’ Guild, and Broken Light: A Photography Collective. I’ve selected these sites to link to here because they in turn link to individual bloggers who write about a wide range of mental health related topics. I welcome additional suggestions in comments!

Understanding our experiences is a good start, but it isn’t enough. We need to work together to change them – which means changing social, cultural, and especially institutional norms to be healthier for people (especially children) so we don’t get mental illnesses in the first place. I think most if not all of the “stigma” around mental illness exists because talking about it ultimately requires us to question and challenge norms that form the cultural and more importantly financial foundations for our societies, including: valuing people for their economic success, unattainable standards of beauty, pressure to conform to gender roles from birth (particularly masculinity), various intersecting systems of privilege and oppression, etc. etc. etc.

When I told Fox I was uncomfortable sharing my story – because it’s not the after-the-fact, good depressive “success” story they want to hear – he said it’s the story people need to hear. The here-I-am-right-in-the-middle-of-the-storm story. The I-don’t-know-how-long-I-can-hold-on reality. The “actually, I’m the one who could use some hope, because a big part of my problem right now is that I don’t have any.”

I’ve had mental illnesses on the “mood disorder” and “anxiety” spectra for most of my life, and I’ve been consistently living with diagnosable symptoms for over 4 years. I don’t even know what my diagnosis is, and frankly, I’m inclined to think that’s for the better. It’s frustrating to be unsure what to even say I have, but it means I and the people trying to help me can focus on my individual needs and what I’ve found to be helpful (or unhelpful). It means we can move past labels to the underlying psychological structures and processes that may have been adaptive at one point in my life, but came at a cost I can’t afford to keep paying.

In a word, it means I can focus on my own personal growth.

I think it’s great that in addition to Mental Health Awareness Month in May, there is a week in October dedicated to, well, basically the same thing. I kind of wish they didn’t call it Mental Illness Awareness Week though – because an illness is something outside of or other than oneself that affects one (hopefully temporarily) and needs to be treated, if possible, cured. It’s very easy for people to say “Well, I don’t have this illness, so this issue isn’t relevant to me;” if someone they care about has one or more mental illnesses, they may not even be aware of it (unlike with a less-stigmatized condition, which people would probably talk about).

Additionally, I haven’t found it helpful to think of my previously-adaptive, now increasingly problematic patterns of thought and behavior as an “illness” that is separate from and/or imposed upon my self. If anything, I’ve found it to be harmful; it means there’s something “wrong” with me that needs to be “fixed” in order for me to “function” in society, and until that happens I’m worth less than “healthy” individuals.

These patterns of thought and behavior, whether I like them or not, are part of me. I created them to protect me. They’ve helped me meet the demands placed on me by parents, other family members, teachers, employers, etc. They’re part of how I learned skills I still find useful, that are necessary if I ever want to have a career and other things that people associate with “functioning” and having a “normal” and/or “meaningful” life. Getting rid of them wholesale as part of “curing” my “mental illness” would be a disaster.

What I need, as mentioned earlier, is to grow. Part of that is letting go of the things that are hurting me or aren’t helping me any more. A lot of it is changing things that are adaptive in some ways, harmful in others. For example, my perfectionism: I place a very high value on creating the very best product I possibly can – such as well-written, relatable, informative blog posts. I put a lot of effort into accomplishing this, and gain a lot of satisfaction from doing so. Great. When I apply it to academic papers, the result is usually a grade of A. Fantastic. But I need to stop allowing my desire to produce the best quality product to keep me from starting the process, or to cause me to neglect my other needs and responsibilities during the process. I need to stop basing my self-esteem on how others respond (or don’t respond) to my work. I need to develop an inherent sense of self-worth, a concept I frankly don’t understand because it’s never been an intrinsic part of how I understand myself or the world; it’s not part of how I was raised or the society I was raised in. We value and celebrate people based on what they do, and deny people access to basic needs – never mind “rights” – because we don’t see them doing enough to “earn” it. The closest I can come to understanding inherent self-worth is to try to apply my belief that other people deserve to have their basic needs met no matter what to myself.

If there’s anything to be aware of during Mental Illness Awareness Week, I think it’s actually the message from NAMI that yes, it affects everyone. Everyone has to develop some unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior to survive in a society that was built by the privileged and wealthy to continue benefiting themselves at the expense of everyone else. These patterns influence how we treat each other and raise our kids and perceive ourselves. Some of us just show it more; we become the mirror no one wants to look at because they when they do, they see what they don’t want to know about themselves. I wish I could say something like “It’s not that scary,” but to be honest I still find it very difficult. I guess all I can ask is for people to pick up the mirror and pass it around, so we all have the opportunity to look. Wear green and post a selfie. Send out the message that this is important.

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Feel the Burn(s Depression Checklist)

I’ve been using the Burns Depression Checklist to track my depression symptoms every day for the past month. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Checklist is a list of 25 symptoms, such as: “feeling unhappy or blue,” “loss of motivation,” “feeling tired,” and suicidal thoughts. It’s been about a year since I last used it.

To complete the Checklist, I rate each item on a scale from 0 to 4 – where 0 means I didn’t experience the symptom that day and 4 means it was “extremely” present that day. I find tracking my symptoms daily to be helpful because it’s hard enough to remember everything I felt, experienced, and did in one day – never mind trying to do it for a whole week! I add up my ratings on all 25 items to determine my score, a numerical representation of how depressed I was that day.

Ziya's scores on the Burns Depression Checklist from July 16, 2014 to August 17, 2014

Ziya’s scores on the Burns Depression Checklist July 16, 2014 to August 17, 2014

My scores (blue line) are usually in the mild (11-25) or moderate (26-50) ranges; my average for the month is 30. Days when I score above a 40 are particularly bad and I notice impairment in my functioning beyond feeling tired and not wanting to do anything. It’s like I can’t do anything.

In contrast, days when I score in the teens or low 20s are my good days, when I feel like I can get my life back on track and I want to do everything. They are days when I’m the most active and social… and (usually) spending time with Banji. Both of the days when I scored below a 10 (July 27th and August 2nd) were days I spent with Banji doing some of our favorite activities.

My scores oscillate wildly from day to day; a change of 10 points or more is not uncommon. I’ve even had the score jump almost 30 points in one day! (August 3-4: I was sick, but pushed myself to spend the weekend with Banji and other friends anyway. I needed the 4th as a day to say “fuck you” to the world and stay in bed. I ended up playing The Sims 3 for most of the day.)

To try and compensate for the oscillations, I had my spreadsheet calculate a 7-day average value for each day, using the scores from that day and the 6 before it. The 7-day average values are marked on the graph above as a dotted green line that never drops below a 16.

Ironically, my low 7-day average score of 16 occurred on the day of my psychiatric evaluation – probably the one day I’d want to exhibit depressive symptoms so they could be observed and evaluated by a professional. It’s been rising since. There are definitely other factors involved (well, mostly visiting Banji), but I think my hope that the advanced practice nurse (APN) would be able to help me reduced my depression leading up to the appointment.

[August 20, 2014 Update: Actually, my low 7-day average score of 16 was 2 days before the psychiatric evaluation – on the day I came home from visiting with Banji.]

In the time since that appointment: I have not been on medication, I’ve been unable to schedule the sleep study the APN requested, I’ve stopped taking the supplements that seem to help but cost more than I’m comfortable spending while I lack income, and I haven’t been doing music therapy with Wakana because she’s on a business trip. Most importantly, I haven’t seen Banji since August 3rd.

I’m also a bit stressed out about the summer class I’m taking, which is awesome but requires me to go out into unfamiliar social situations and be professional and on time and do independent research for a paper due in less than 2 weeks. It’s sending my anxiety through the roof! My responses to anxiety tend to be depressive symptoms: feeling hopeless, inadequate, ashamed, and guilty, criticizing myself, avoiding people and activities, eating like crazy, and my sleep cycle is a total wreck. It’s a bit overly simplistic to stay that my anxiety causes my depression, but it definitely contributes to it.

I have noticed a cycle where I start to feel better, start making commitments (applying for jobs, registering for this course, etc.), feel very anxious about keeping the commitments, fail to keep the commitments, feel depressed, don’t do anything for a while because I’m too depressed, rinse and repeat.

Where is this anxiety coming from? Well, our friend David Burns and other cognitive behavioral psychologists would say it (as part of depression) comes from distorted negative thinking, particularly about myself. I hate myself; I think I’m no good and I don’t deserve to live and it’s only a matter of time before other people figure it out. It doesn’t really matter where I got this belief; exploring its causes won’t help me feel better and will only open up an ugly can of worms that’s best thrown out. It’s in the past. I live in the present; in the present what matters is replacing the belief with something more realistic and healthy… at least, that’s my understanding of what cognitive behavioral therapy is about.

I’m ostensibly holding a key to overcoming my depression in my hands as I write this: the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns. It’s where I got the Checklist and its scoring chart from and I’ve read parts of it, but I have yet to fully absorb its wisdom – obviously, or else I wouldn’t still hate myself. I’d love to use the excuse that I need to focus on my class so I can’t also read this book, but let’s be realistic. I’ve been wasting time on random things that I could easily divide between schoolwork and doing things that benefit my mental health and have time left over for fun and/or social activities. The number one “random thing” is an online free-to-play “game” that some friends got Fox and me into.

I need to kick my computer addiction, but I don’t even know where to start… especially since I need my computer for things like the class I’m taking! Aarrgghh!!!!!

I wish it were as simple as deciding that this other stuff is more important and doing it, but if that were the case I wouldn’t have depression. I need some kind of support; I feel like a broken record because I don’t even know how many times I’ve said it since I started this blog. I’m having trouble focusing, deciding what to do (which causes me overwhelming anxiety), mustering the energy to go do it… I don’t know. I’m stuck. I’m just going to stop writing now.

Measuring Recovery: Part 2 – More Burns Depression Checklist

I reviewed my overall daily and weekly scores on the Burns Depression Checklist in my previous post, Measuring Recovery: Part 1. I’ll be taking a look at daily scores for subcategories of the Checklist today.

Subcategories

Thoughts and Feelings

The first category consists of 10 items describing one’s subjective experience, including: “feeling unhappy or blue,” “feeling hopeless,” “criticizing yourself or blaming yourself,” and “difficulty making decisions.” Criticizing/blaming and other items related to self-perception seem to be causing me the most difficulty. On a scale from 0 to 4, I tend to rank criticizing/blaming from a 2 to 4 – moderate to extreme.

Activities and Personal Relationships

The second category consists of 7 items that describe behavior and subjective experience related to work/hobbies and social life. Although I do seem to feel worse on days when I withdraw from my social network, the items I see myself struggling the most with are “motivation” and “loss of interest in work or other activities.”

Physical Symptoms

There are 5 items related to sleep, appetite, sex, and “worrying about your health.” This is the category I seem to consistently score the highest in. Even on really good days when my thoughts, feelings, and behavior would suggest otherwise, my body seems to be depressed. I guess this is why it’s so important to exercise.

Suicidal Urges

The final category asks 3 questions: thoughts? desire? plan? Fortunately this is the category I score the lowest in – usually a 1 in thoughts and 0s in desire and plan.

My Scores

Scores for the Burns Depression Checklist are determined by ranking each item from 0 to 4, where 0 means you didn’t experience the symptom at all during the given time frame (1 day to 1 week) and 4 means it was “extreme.”

Instead of tracking each item separately, I decided to look at my scores for overall categories. To standardize the scores, I divided the total score for each category by the number of items in said category. As a result, all the scores represented on the chart/graph below are between 0 and 4.

My (standardized) scores on the subcategories of the Burns Depression Checklist from July 29, 2013 through August 24th, 2013. The gap represents 2 days when I did not complete the checklist.

My (standardized) scores on the subcategories of the Burns Depression Checklist from July 29, 2013 through August 24th, 2013. The gap represents 2 days when I did not complete the Checklist.

What a Mess!

Although at first glance the graph/chart above appears to be chaotic, there are a few noticeable trends.

* First, with rare exceptions, all 4 lines tend to move in the same direction. If one line is going up, the other three most likely are as well, though the angle might be different. (One or more scores may stay the same.) Same is true if they’re going down. In other words, on good days (low score) I feel better and perceive myself in a better light and am more active and have less suicidal urges than on bad days (high score).

burnschart01a_0811-0814* The blue line (thoughts and feelings) starts out with a noticeably different shape from the other 3. By the end of the 4 weeks, however, it is moving in better unison with them. The “thoughts and feelings” subcategory seems to be more internal, while the other categories relate self to body and self to outside world – if such a dichotomy is truly relevant. I’m inclined to say there was a disconnect between these two aspects of my experience that has been (at least temporarily) resolved.

Another way of looking at it is that the biggest disconnect between the blue line and the others is around August 11-14, when I was grieving the death of my undergraduate mentor. It makes sense that I would experience increased sadness, crying, even guilt during such a time, without necessarily having a comparable increase in other depression symptoms.

* Whereas near the beginning of the 4 weeks there are noticeable vertical gaps between the lines, by the end of the 4 weeks the lines tend to overlap. This is especially true of the blue line and the red line, representing thoughts/feelings and activities/personal relationships respectively. How I think and feel is very closely related to my engagement with the world; I’m not sure whether the closeness of that relationship has actually increased or I’ve just become more aware of it. (This is, after all, a self-report measure.)

The Valley and the Peak

There are 2 days in particular that I think deserve some special attention.

burnschart01a_0816The first is Friday, August 16th, when we went to visit the bed & breakfast / potential wedding venue. It was a wonderful vacation; I felt energized, socially and otherwise engaged, I was active, and there was little room for self-criticism, sadness, and so on. I swam until I was completely physically exhausted – but felt amazing – and then enjoyed s’mores with my loved ones and friendly new acquaintances. Fox and I got to spend some time in a beautiful secluded outdoor area and be romantic. I felt so much more alive than I had for so long …

And yet, while I was swimming, I couldn’t help but think about drowning. For one day I was relatively free from depression, but a nagging voice remained, reminding me that all is not right in my brain. Is this a common thing, for someone who loves swimming but only does so when on vacation to think about how easy it would be to drown? I seem to remember a time when all I cared about was the feeling of the water rushing past my skin, the exhilaration as I propelled myself forward using my own energy, bursting through the surface of the water to fill my lungs with life-giving air, and the glorious feeling of weightlessness. Sure, it’s important to take safety precautions. But I always trusted myself to take them. This time I was less sure.

I should also point out that I completed my checklist for the 16th a day later, from memory. I like focusing on the positive aspects of that day, but there was some frustration and anxiety related to getting there, waiting for Fox’s parents (who hit traffic), and learning it was more expensive than we’d expected. I can’t know for sure whether or how my scores might have been different if I’d completed the checklist that night. I can say with certainty that, even with the frustration and anxiety, it was a much better day than I’ve come to consider “normal.” I woke the next morning feeling alert and refreshed – how wonderful!

burnschart01a_0819The second day I want to focus on is Monday, August 19th. I’ve noticed a tendency for my symptoms to oscillate, bad days (high scores) followed by good days (low scores) and vice-versa. It makes sense that, not long after such a good day (such low scores) I was bound to have a bad one (high scores). This turned out to be the worst day since I started my self-assessment.

I don’t really want to repeat what I’ve already said about this day, so I invite anyone interested to read No Space for Me (the post I wrote that day) and the paragraphs near the fourth picture under “Context is Everything” in Measuring Recovery: Part 1.

Suffice it to say – perhaps combining with the “natural” oscillation that would have occurred anyway – my experiences that day contributed to a very dangerous mental and emotional state, which is reflected neatly in that day’s Checklist scores. My scores on Thoughts and Feelings and Activities and Social Relationships both averaged a 3 (“severe”); my senses of agency, social belonging, and satisfaction in life were shattered. I was exhausted and slept during waking hours because that was the only relief I could find from my pain (Physical Symptoms average score 2.8). Not only did I think about taking my own life, but I wanted it to end and I even began contemplating a plan (Suicidal Urges average score 2). I think my fears were what kept me from going any further with it – particularly because I would have had to make noise, which increased my chances of getting caught doing something that definitely was not allowed.

While I’d much rather never feel like that again, I’m grateful for that fear.

Especially since all 4 scores dropped pretty dramatically after that day, and have been staying in the 0-2 range (for the most part) since. I have concerns about my lifestyle, things I want to change or do differently; those kind of require me to be alive. So do my long-term goals.

And the people I love … sometimes I need space from them, sometimes they drive me batty, and yes sometimes I forget they are here … but they’re way too important to just abandon so suddenly. I can’t live for them – I’ll be miserable – but I want to live because I want to spend time with them. I want to share joy with them; to be connected to something bigger than myself. I don’t know what comes after death, but I know what can happen in life because I’ve already experienced a decent chunk of it. And yeah, there are not-so-good moments, but there are also moments that can be wonderful.

The days when I lose sight of this are the worst days, the ones when I score the worst (highest) in all 4 subcategories. I don’t know how realistic it is to try and keep believing in it, blindly, when everything I’m experiencing (through that horrible depression filter) says otherwise. But I can look at this chart/graph and see how the scores oscillate. A bad day will be followed by a good – or at least not-so-bad – day. I just need to give myself a chance to wake up to it.

Domestic Violence

I was interrupted from my early morning insomniac reading by what sounded like a woman crying and talking in a very rushed, upset voice. It sounded like it was coming from nearby, but outside. Then the doorbell rang three times; I thought, who could possibly be ringing the bell this early in the morning? I’m not answering it! But then Fox came into the room and said he didn’t know what to do, he’s not officially a member of this household yet but it sounded like someone was calling for help. I was off the couch in an instant – if someone needed help, I wanted to help them.

I went to the door to find a woman on my (enclosed) porch holding her dog. She was crying and shaking with her cell phone between her ear and shoulder, already talking to the local police department. As soon as she saw me she started apologizing and explained that the door to the porch had been unlocked, so she ran in to get away from her boyfriend. The boyfriend had been drinking, hit her, and threw her dog across the street. She was convinced that if she hadn’t gotten away he would have killed her. “Thank you so much for keeping your door unlocked. It saved my life!”

I let her in and locked the door behind her and checked that the other doors to the house were also locked. Sure enough, the boyfriend came and was banging on the door to the porch to be let in. I assured the woman that the most important thing to me was for her to be safe. Mom came over and tried to comfort her as well; that helped me feel more confident that I was doing the right thing. The cops came and arrested the boyfriend and took her in for questioning. Before she left I looked her in the eye and said, “Don’t go back to him under any circumstances.” I really hope that was helpful.

From what I’ve learned, by the time physical violence becomes part of an abusive relationship, the victim’s self-esteem is often so damaged ze has great difficulty living without the abuser – everything from believing hir safety is more important than the abuser to being able to perform basic tasks to care for oneself.

The woman on my porch kept apologizing, said she was “stupid” for staying with the boyfriend for two years, and said she owed me dinner. At the time I interpreted all that as low self esteem, but she seemed very, very agitated – very scared and grateful for safety and compassion. She was able to say that “he makes [her] look like a liar.” She was able to run away and call the cops and assert that she didn’t want to ride in the same car as the boyfriend; these facts give me hope that she will choose to stay away from him, and hopefully avoid abusive relationships in the future. But I’m worried about her, and I don’t feel safe living across the street from an abuser. I was shaking myself for a good half hour after everyone had left.

The whole thing was so surreal, I’d think I’d dreamed it if I didn’t still smell like the woman’s perfume from hugging her. It reminded me of dreams I’ve had in the past, where I tried to run into the house to escape some unknown but terrifying danger or run through the house locking doors behind me (often to no avail). But this really happened – to someone else – and I was a brief witness to it. I provided comfort, a haven, maybe even some hope.

At the time I put my needs aside to help someone in crisis, but now I need to tend to my own needs. Writing this post is part of it but I feel like there’s more – I’m not sure what, though. I think I’m still a bit too shaken to try and sleep. I have a letter I want to mail and a massage appointment I’m thinking of rescheduling. The former is an attempt to reach out to my cousin whose father died in late March, letting him know I love him and support him in doing whatever he needs to take care of himself on Father’s Day. Writing it (yesterday early morning, when I couldn’t sleep) was therapeutic for me because I was able to be honest in it while feeling like I might also be doing some good. The latter is a deep tissue massage intended to relieve the tension in my back, but at the expense of physical pain, emotional upset, and soreness lasting a few days. For a massage to be helpful today, I’d need its focus to be purely on relaxation – not the specialty of my currently-scheduled therapist. I think I’d rather cuddle with Fox, maybe even do something to try and express the crazy mess of emotions I’ve been feeling trying to block out by playing Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion all hours of the day and night.

The Bloody Arms Project

Today the good folk at The Daily Post offered the following prompt:

Tell us about a time where everything you’d hoped would happen actually did.

Well, I’ve been plagued with thoughts about cutting myself for some time now. Mostly lately they come in the form of mental images, rather than as an urge or thought that I should do it. I’ve been interpreting them less as a message about what I could or should do to my body, and more as an expression of what has already been done to my soul.  My spirit. My emotional self.

I’ve been trying to find some way to get these images out of my head, where they tend to hurt me, and into some form I can share with the world. I thought paint would be the best medium, but for the time being I seem not to have access to any. Today I experimented with crayons, oil pastels, and finally modeling clay (plastalina).

Art Materials

Not only was I able to express at least some of my inner turmoil without harming myself or anyone else, but as I was working with the clay I actually felt a sense of peace. Gone were the disturbing mental images and verbal abuse. Thoughts about the process of creating art – even the thought, “Ooh, yeah, that’s beautiful!” – took their place.

So now I have a safe outlet for dangerous emotions and a means of exploring emotional experiences that really do not lend themselves well to words. I can even experience some peace and a sense of accomplishment while I do so. And that gives me a lot of hope.

The images I created are behind the following link. They may be triggering to some people, particularly anyone inclined toward self-harm and survivors of abuse.

Continue reading

Out of the Darkness Overnight

“What do you have to live for?” the voice asked, suddenly snapping me out of my thoughts about the day.

Everything I’ve listed as my hobbies, my career of choice, suddenly all of it seemed completely superficial. I struggled to think of something. What gives my life meaning? Why am I still alive?

“Love,” I replied. “My family and friends. I want to have children someday. I want to make a positive difference in others’ lives.”

“So you live for other people,” the voice sneered, adding: “Pretend that they’re gone. You can’t live for them, you have to live for yourself.

“Why do you want to live?”

… … …

I had to think about this one for a minute. I was actually worried that the answer wouldn’t come. There have been times when the only thing keeping me alive has been concern for the emotional well-being of the people closest to me – or, alternatively, fear that death would trap me in my torment, instead of granting the relief I sought.

But these reasons bring no comfort. They keep me here, against my will, suffering. They are not enough.

I cannot live for others’ comfort. That just feels like a waking nightmare. I’ve had a taste of it – and spent too much of my life suffering from severe depression.

I need something for myself.

I suppose another way to frame my fear of being trapped in torment by death is that I still have hope – hope that things will get better. Hope that, if I keep at it long enough, someday I won’t need to ask myself these questions.

But hope is not enough either. Hope fades. And so does my vision of the future.

I can’t live for a future that I can’t see. I need something here – and NOW!

What is here and now and worth living for?

Suddenly, all the little things came flooding back:

the feel of the wind on my skin and in my hair

the changing seasons; sunsets; grass under bare feet

water running over my skin; surrounding me

spending time with cute loveable animals

feeling loved by other people; receiving hugs

making love – or good conversation

my heartbeat

the joy and sense of mastery that comes from expressing myself, whether it be through music, dance, drawing, or the written word

FOOD – especially the taste of chocolate

the joy of learning something new, solving a puzzle, rising to a challenge

soaking in an amazing work of music or other art

feeling the physical presence of my own body

Knowing that it is my choice to continue to live. And I do, every moment of every day.

But a painful number of people don’t. People like me. People who really aren’t any different, in any meaningful way, from everybody else. There is no “us” and “them” when it comes to mental health. As Kiara put it so eloquently in The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, “They are us.”

And that is why I am walking in the Out of the Darkness Overnight in Washington, D.C. on June 1st.

I am walking for my comrades who live each day with depression and/or other mental health issues, and struggle, and contemplate or possibly even attempt suicide.

I am walking in memory of those who have taken their own lives.

I am walking in solidarity with those who have lost a loved one or otherwise been affected by suicide, including some members of my family.

Above all, I am walking for myself, because everything we do to promote mental health and prevent suicide benefits me directly. I am walking to save my own life.

I am walking for us.