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A very moving entry from S.

It is hard to take a picture of yourself. I don’t have the support of my family for them to help. I was diagnosed BP in 2004. Previous to the diagnosis I self medicated, spent 18 months in rehab, was sober for some time, married 3 times, had two daughters, attended college to become a special education teacher, while somehow holding it all together. In 2006 I attempted suicide, then followed, hospitalizations, 23 different meds in different combinations, more suicide attempts, ECT for two years, memory loss, now I’m tired and seriously depressed. I continue everyday putting on my mask working with severely autistic students, failing at being a wife and mother, my own mother left my life before the holidays, and now I have discontinued use of all meds. I’m alive still.

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Photo taken by a woman who suffers from the mental health issues above, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar II.

About this photo: “This is a submission for both Broken Light Collective, and Unmasked, a project that encourages people to come out about their diagnoses to help fight stigma. It is hard for me to put myself out there in this way, especially with a photo, because there are elements of my diagnoses that I am still struggling to come to terms with. I admit that there are certain things that I erased from the board because I am still fighting with my own inner stigma battle, but I know that I want to encourage other people to fight stigma and put themselves out there, so I must therefore do so myself, even if it is one step at a time.

When things are at their worst, I feel like my diagnoses become me. It makes me feel incredibly confused, ashamed, and angry, in part because of the stigma. If I am what I am trained to think down upon, fear, and hate, then I therefore must think down upon, fear, and hate myself. But I know there must be more to me than these words on a chalk board, and that I must keep fighting for that something else. Fighting for my family, my remaining friends, myself, and everyone else who is fighting. There is no doubt that mental illness is the hardest battle I have ever fought. It’s a daily battle for life. As you see, the list of my battles is a long one, and this is only a partial list and doesn’t even include my many set-backs and treatments tried along the way.
One of the few things that can bring me a feeling of joy in my depressed state, or any other state for that matter, is photography. When I am feeling terrible there is little that I can do beyond trying to see my doctors and take my medications. Those times even standing up can be a challenge, but being creative is something small that I can do for myself wherever I am physically or emotionally, a distraction and a creation that is all mine. And sharing my photos in a supportive environment like Broken Light has been an amazing release and support. I hope other people will take my lead — not necessarily photographing yourself with your diagnoses, but doing a little something for yourself, creating something or finding your own way of fighting stigma. I know I am more than my diagnoses — my photography reminds me of that. WE, the collective, those who have suffered or are suffering, are all more than our diagnoses. Create, explore, share… Let’s do whatever we can to release their powerful hold.” 

Angela Meadows

Wonderful Angela is happy to share her story. Thank you so much!

During my first episode of suicidal depression, I spent every waking moment thinking about the best way to kill myself in a manner that would inconvenience other people as little as possible. It was cold, unemotional, and almost clinical. They haven’t all been like that. A few years ago I had a different experience – a maelstrom of emotion: howling tears, huge waves of pain washing over me, terror at having to endure any more of it. The reason I didn’t follow through that time was my husband. Not because I felt I had anything to live for, but because I knew the devastating effect my death would have on him. And I hated him for it. I hated him for loving me so much that I couldn’t end my misery. That was probably my all-time low point.

I’ve generally been very open about my illness, because that’s all it is. When people have praised my bravery for speaking out, I thank them for their intended compliment, but note that they wouldn’t have said that if it was diabetes. Why shouldn’t I talk about it? It’s a disease, not a character flaw. There were times, in some work situations, where I wasn’t sure of the response I would get and struggled on in silence. The effort of having to hide your difficulties in coping, and to maintain appearances and performance, just adds to the sense of failure and hopelessness. More recently, I’ve told coworkers when I’ve been struggling, or going through a medication change, when I’ve had cotton wool where my brain should be, and asked them to bear with me while it passes. Not having to keep it secret, and allowing people to give you the support you need, is an enormous weight off your shoulders. Trust people – they may surprise you. And if they don’t, it is their problem, not yours. You are entitled to ask for and get support when you need it. And for many, it may be the first time they feel able to talk about their own or their family’s problems with mental illness – lifting the burden of stigma all around.

The other reason that I wanted to take part in the Unmasked project, is to stand before any of you out there who are suffering now, and promise you that there is an end to it. You can get through it. Ask for the help you need, keep trying if it doesn’t work to start with. I am still on antidepressants and probably will be for life. I fought against taken them for the longest time but they probably saved my life. There were times I wished they hadn’t. It hasn’t always been plain sailing and I have had to change medication several times over, each time accompanied by a major breakdown that cost me months or years of my life. But I have never been happier than I am now. I have suffered some major life setbacks this year, but have handled them all with calmness and aplomb – the way that I used to, before the depression. I am me again. I love my life and I’m thrilled to be living it. There is hope.

 

Shawn Jones & Jillian Nicole

Woke up to find these beautiful photos and great writing with such a strong message attached. Here’s to LOVE and ending the stigma 😀

Ever heard the Dr. Seuss quote “We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love”? This quote could not be more fitting for my fiancé and I. Shawn has been diagnosed with severe ADHD, while I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We’re fighting hard to end the stigma and show that everyone, even the “crazies”, can be truly happy if you just believe in optimism. (photograph of Shawn Jones & Jillian Nicole)

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was twenty-two. Whenever I tell people about my diagnosis, they are always shocked and say to me “but you’re always so happy!”. I think this is one of the biggest stereotypes of mental illness. People always seem to expect the “mentally ill” to look, well, mentally ill. We need to make sure that we get to really know people, and not just judge by what we see on the surface. Sometimes the happiest looking people are the ones that feel the most lost. (photograph of Jillian Nicole)

Shawn has struggled most his life with undiagnosed ADHD. Receiving his first diagnosis just a few months ago, it has come as a huge relief. He always struggled with feeling like he was too unmotived or too lazy to get anything done. Getting a diagnosis gave him a reason for these struggles – and with reason comes solution. (photograph of Shawn Jones)

Ian Francis

Ian writes:

Hi I’ not strong enough yet to come out from behind the lens, I’ve been Bipolar for almost ten years, in that time I have taught myself photography from scratch. I have used that to my advantage to get out, not talk and use the camera as a shield, have a end product.

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Tricia Hurtubise

An entry from beautiful Tricia…I’ll let her introduce herself

Hi.  I’m Trish and I experience C-PTSD.  It has been quite a journey and I have learned so much about myself.  The most important thing I have learned is self-love and compassion are how I heal.

 So when asked to unmask, it takes me much more courage to unmask the “true me” versus the label I have been given for my mental and physical state.  My experience with PTSD is intertwined with my experiences in life and both have shaped me to who I am right now. I ask for the courage to be me in every moment. 

I founded http://mentalhealthtalk.info to provide a platform for myself and others who experience mental illness and disorders to tell their story and share their wisdom.  This was a big step in facing who I am and showing-up in the world.  The experience has been amazing and I have found my tribe.

May I tell you something?  You are just right as you are in this moment. 

Much love,

Trish