Monday, August 30, 2021

Survivor's Guilt

 (Disclaimer: This post is about my own personal feelings, and family and close friends reactions to a suicide. This is not saying that this is how everyone reacts.)

I remember back when I was a teenager, my Mom telling me that my cousin had died. That he had committed suicide. Being a teenager I didn’t fully understand. I remember being sad and confused. Why would he do that? Why didn’t he talk to someone? I sympathized with him in my own way. How alone he must have felt.

It wasn’t until I got older and had my first spiral down that I felt like I understood better how he felt. I mean, how could you not feel so small in this world? Doesn’t everyone know that they don’t matter? That you are just a burden to everyone, and that they will appreciate you being gone.

It wasn’t until after my suicide attempt, years later, that I realized how much I mattered to people. And that was the first time I became angry with my cousin. How could he do that to us? So many people loved and cared about him, didn’t he understand that? 

And that’s when it became clear to me, that when you are so far down the rabbit hole, that you are literally not in the right state of mind anymore. Now, I wish my cousin had asked someone for help. I wish that the stigma didn’t make asking for help seem like a bad thing. Why is going to the doctor for a broken bone different then going to the doctor for your feelings? Why are we made to think that suffering from mental illness is a bad thing? Why do movies and TV shows only depict the worst case of any mental illness and not the ones who live with it everyday? 

I was lucky earlier this year, I was deep in the rabbit hole when I had a moment of clarity. Realized I didn’t want to leave my girls or family. I reached out, called my doctor and told them I needed help. And I received help. But again, why is asking for help considered a bad thing? Why are so many people taught to suck it up? Or “fake it until you make it”? 

Earlier this month, when I received the call about my close family member. This time the emotions hit like a ton of bricks. Denial, anger, depression. Why did this happen to us? Why didn’t he reach out? What could I have done better to help him? And then the anger.

Not anger towards him, for me my anger was at the stigma. At the people who believe in the stigma still out of ignorance not knowledge. How is it that we are in 2021 and mental health is still taboo? How are more people not angry with this? So, I started researching.

The 6 top reasons people don’t reach out for mental health: 1) fear of judgment. 2) guilt. 3) shame. 4) feeling misunderstood. 5) fear of rejection. 6) fear of criticism. I have personally felt everyone of these. No one wants to be judged for having a hard time. I have also pushed my need for help aside because I didn’t want to be a burden to my family. I felt shame for a long time after my diagnosis. I still often feel misunderstood, because of the lack of information available for mental health. Let’s face it, no one wants to be rejected, whether from family and friends, or romantic relationships, or even professional ones. How many times have you “vented” or reached out to a friend or family member and been told people have it worse? Or been told to be strong, fake it until you make it? 

So what can we do to be better? We can start by talking openly about our struggles. The best way to end the stigma is to make people uncomfortable and have them listen! Change won’t happen overnight. This is something we need to work on everyday. We need to stop judging by worst case examples and open our eyes to everyone's struggles. Mental health is not one size fits all. We need more resources available, we need not to judge each other on our struggles. 

I’m hoping we can escape the stigma, and end the taboo behind mental health. And the only way for us to reach this goal is to open up to each other. Be there for one another. After losing 2 family members and almost myself to suicide, I can honestly say I am angry, not at myself or my family members, but at the stigma, the lack of resources, the criticism when admitting you need help. Speak up with me, let's end the stigma. Let’s be loud and make people uncomfortable!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Welcome to the Escape

     Welcome to Escaping the Stigma, my name is Brittany. I decided to start Escaping the Stigma after a close family member committed suicide. I also struggle with my own mental illness: Bipolar. This is my way to escape, open up, have a safe place for people to talk, and hopefully help others. Now for my story!

I was officially diagnosed with bipolar when I was 24 years old, but deep down, I think I always knew. The ups and the downs started in my teens. I became private and self loathing. I denied it. I was ashamed of it. I wouldn’t talk about it. I am a single mother to two beautiful little girls, how could I be bipolar and the mother they deserved? Then I had my first suicide attempt.

I remember taking all the pills and crying. I remember calling my Mom, crying and saying I was sorry. After that I don't remember much, I know I was taken to the hospital. It wasn’t until the next day, on my way to inpatient treatment, that I started remembering things. I remember being scared. Feeling alone. But, it helped. I felt good, better. I was taking the right medication, I was stabilizing. And I stayed stable and present, until Covid happened.

Being a frontline worker meant seeing my kids less, and unfortunately, I spiraled. I went off my medicine. And went manic. I blew through my money. Got rid of my dogs. Became paranoid, thought everyone was out to get me. Imagined things and thought they were real. Finally broke down, and asked for help. Started seeing the doctor again, started taking the medicine again. But what goes up must go down, and I fell into a deep depression.

I started cutting people off, the paranoia returned. All I wanted to do was sleep. I stopped cleaning, stopped taking care of myself. Started writing a goodbye letter to my kids. And then it happened. That moment of clarity. And I knew I needed more help. I called my doctor's office in tears. Explained what was going on, that I had a plan. Next thing I know, a family member is at my door, and back to inpatient I went. 

12 days. I spent 12 days inpatient, and let me tell you, it was the best thing for me. Of course I was nervous and scared, but the benefits of being in a safe space were exactly what I needed. Now getting back out was a bit of a struggle, I called it culture shock. But I never have regretted the decision of going in, it was what I needed. 

After getting out I continued seeing the doctor and my therapist until we found what worked for me. Other than some minor ups and downs, which come with bipolar, I was finally becoming stable. And realizing that I wanted to help people. I want the stigma of mental health gone. I want people to be able to talk openly about their struggles. Maybe if the stigma was gone I would have asked for help sooner. But I didn't know how to accomplish this goal. Until earlier this month, after a certain phone call.

It was a Monday evening, I had worked all day, and then picked up my girls for meet the teacher. We were pulling up to my mom's house when I received a phone call. During this phone call I learned that a close and dear family member had committed suicide earlier that day. I remember breaking down, I remember my mom pulling my kids out of the car. I remember feeling lost, and asking myself why? What could I have done? 

In that moment I realized what I needed to do. Create that safe place. Be open and honest about my struggles and maybe help someone accept their diagnosis. My goal is to end the stigma, help people, and share my story and what I’ve learned. I want people to be more comfortable talking about what is going on with them. I want “asking for help” to be a sign of courage not weakness. 

This is my story, these are my struggles and my high points. I hope my story gives you the courage to speak up. Help me end the stigma of mental health and suicide. Help me make the world a better place for everyone. We all deserve better.

If you are having thoughts of suicide or self harm please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 or chat with someone on their website:     

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