Please Stop Scapegoating Those Living with a Mental Illness

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With all the on-line bickering and arguing as of late, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. It’s become so commonplace, that I see something nearly every day that truly rubs me the wrong way. It is the “scapegoating” of those living with a mental illness in social media. And it is not something that is only being done by “one side” or the other of the political divide, it is actually rampant on both sides.

Some examples I’ve recently seen are:

*Referring to those who are “racist” as “mentally ill”.

*Calling either political party “mentally ill” because their beliefs are in opposition to yours.

*Stating that someone is “mentally ill” because the are unwilling to take the vaccine to prevent Covid-19.

*Responding to an article about an individual who committed a violent act as “mentally ill”.

*Referring to those who are members of extremist groups as “mentally ill”.

This list goes on and on. Many of the above examples “scapegoat” those living with a mental illness by generalizing an entire group of diverse individuals by affixing the label, “mentally ill”, in a context that is dehumanizing and demeaning to those who truly suffer. As someone who has lived with a mental illness for nearly 32 years, this obviously is upsetting to me. And, it also increases the stigma surrounding mental health.

For those of us actually living with a mental illness, we realize that our diagnosis, disability, or condition does not define us. When you collectively refer to any group of people as “mentally ill”; You are devaluing this population by stereotyping and generalizing a group of nearly 44 million adults (roughly 18.5% of the US population) who come from all walks of life, socio-economic backgrounds, educational levels, etc.

As someone who lives and struggles with Bipolar 1, PTSD, OCD, and ADHD, I get tired of having “mental illness” being used as the catch-all and “go-to” phrase as the rational for everything wrong with humanity. When humans behave in harmful ways, a mental illness is NOT always to blame.

Hatred and the type of ideologies that lead to violence or discrimination, stems from learned behavior. Fear as well as a lack of education and exposure to others and novel ideas, can also lead individuals to act in irrational ways.

It is crucial to understand that living with an actual psychiatric disorder, causes the individual who is struggling to experience limitations and symptoms that are disruptive to his or her life. This could take form in a number of ways to include difficulty with employment, relationships, and even basic self care. Some struggle more than others and each individual’s experience is unique.

Many people who live with degrees of racism/homophobia/misogyny etc. actually do not experience any limitations in their day to day functioning and they are still able to function with little to no problems. So, acting in a violent way, espousing racist ideas, etc. may not mean you actually would fit into the criteria of having an established psychiatric diagnosis.

On the converse, many of those who live with a mental illness might struggle in a variety of ways, but are caring and empathetic individuals who have never been violent and are competent members of society who contribute both at work and in their respective communities. This includes people from all walks of life: pastors, nurses, teachers, etc. Often, because of the stigma attached to mental illness, individuals do not always disclose their struggle.

Thus, when I see so many people use the term “mentally ill” to describe a violent or racist individual, etc. it is harmful to me and others who are working to debunk the myths surrounding mental health and decrease stigma.

I actually spend a lot of time on-line educating others. Sometimes, I have been pleasantly surprised to receive an apology when I explain to an individual who has just equated racism with mental illness, that their words are every bit as damaging to the mental health community as certain expressions are to POC.

Those of us living with a psychiatric disorder are like anyone else. We want to be seen for who we are, not for our disability. And we want to be seen in a positive light.

I live with a mental illness. I also am educated and hold a MS degree. I have never harmed anyone, nor have I ever been violent or arrested. When you take the word “mentally ill” and equate it with something truly negative, it is harmful to people like myself.

I hope this helps people to understand that changing what words we use actually matters, even when it is something as trivial as a comment on a Facebook or Twitter post. Words are powerful. They matter. Please respect them and use them responsibly.

I hope one day I see a lot less scapegoating and stigmatization of the mentally ill. It does make me more hesitant to openly discuss my psychiatric disability for fear that people will assume “the worst” about me. And this causes some individuals to not seek treatment because they don’t want to be identified as someone with a psychiatric disorder.

I am just like YOU. I am just another person journeying along in life, trying my best to improve, grow, and learn. Next time someone scapegoats an entire population of people, please remember me. There are 44 million more of me in this country and we want to be seen for who we are, not diminished to a label in a demeaning and disrespectful way!

Thanks for reading. I just felt this was something I needed to express, not only for myself, but for the many others who also might feel dismayed and discouraged by being scapegoated. Let’s lift each other up and see the best in all of us!

Hearing I’m Sorry Isn’t Always a Reason to Stay

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Sometimes saying, “I am sorry” isn’t “good enough”. Especially, when those words have beed dropped so effortlessly from your tongue, with no context, nor an explanation as to why, and with no observable change in behavior that follows.

I grow weary of hearing, “I’m sorry”. I grow nauseated of being reminded how many times it’s been uttered from you.

There comes a time in life when you realize the one holding the key to the heavy shackles weighing you down is yourself. It then becomes, a conscious decision to unlock the shackles binding you and fling them to the ground, thus freeing yourself from the chains that have kept you in bondage for so long. For years, we may have not even known we possessed the key. And even after the discovery, it can be years after that until we are willing to let go of the comfort of the old patterns and beliefs that have captivated us for so long.

Once the shackles fall, with a loud thud on the ground below, there is more work to do. If we are not careful, we will get swept up in the layers of sadness, even despair, that is stagnating in the dense air surrounding us. We’ll find ourselves choking on it, biting back the tears, wishing we could of somehow managed to save and savor what we sacrificed years trying to obtain. No amount of effort would have saved what we lost. Often times, we discover it was never truly “ours” in the first place. Perhaps, what we so desperately desired was to commune with ourselves and to preserve the dignity that we lost when we weren’t yet ready “to let go”. The depth of what we sensed was missing in our lives is nearly equal to the space we need to fill completely with ourselves. This is where and how we turn the page.

And, at times, it feels like the heaviest and hardest page to turn. We agonize over the next chapter, with trepidation and uncertainty, fearing that what we accepted in the past must surely be so much larger and better than what could ever discover for ourselves in the future. Even when the times in our past were lonely or painful, it can be still difficult to “let go”. Looking back, there were surely times that were spent stuck, in limbo, grieving what was lost in the past and worrying about what may or may not transpire in the future.

Even so, in this space of “limbo”, we are learning. And we are, at times, becoming swept up again by the inaction of others, allowing their “story” to take precedent in our lives while we take a “back seat”. Maybe the larger fear is the responsibility gained when success is achieved. For some, maybe that prevents them from going forward. Have we become so used to “falling short” that the mere idea of success becomes paralyzing? Even so, there is something pushing us forward. Change happens. It is the one constant we can acknowledge. Nothing remains the same in the end. I’d like to embrace change fully as it’s overtly apparent to me at the moment that everything has drastically shifted. Not just in my personal life, but also on a global scale. And I would even say, on a spiritual level.

As of late, I have been “showing up” in my life, sometimes even fighting mad. I’m no longer willing to accept an apology that is not followed by action. I definitely will not entertain one when I have to continue to “ask for it”. My boundaries are becoming stronger and my tolerance for abuse in any form: gaslighting, shift-blaming, dishonestly, manipulation, discarding, etc. has reached its limit. ENOUGH. Even with members of my family, I have now “cut ties” and have “walked away”. This has been difficult. But, again, I had for years sacrificed so much of my time, energy, and space for people who gave little to nothing to me. To people who were complacent and remained silent, or even, at times, defended or protected those who were harming me and others who I love.

And so, I will “let go”. And I intend to keep walking. I remind myself, in leaving, that I have already proven in a past romantic relationship, when I felt I wasn’t strong enough to leave, that I am capable of doing so. That relationship has been over for 4 years. In fact, once the coronavirus is defeated, I feel ready to date again. I took the time to heal and am excited about the future.

It has taken me a few years “to turn the page” and believe my story as well as reclaim my dignity. I’ve stopped engaging in the fabricated world they create to justify their mistreatment of me. I actually sincerely feel pity and sorrow for those so lost and separated from themselves that they continually hurt others by denying intimacy and truth in their lives. The time I spent trying with them was fruitless in that the relationship was never repaired, but I did grow immensely from the experience.

Loving thyself is actually is being honest and real with oneself. There is no denial of one’s imperfections or mistakes. Self-loathing during difficult times when rejected or mistreated, is now being replaced with practicing self compassion and forgiveness. It is trying harder to set firm boundaries and acknowledging that this is “hard stuff” to learn so “late in life”. It is being kind and gentle with myself.

And so, the page turns. Not always with ease. Sometimes, with hot and salty tears, grieving what I feel should have been “mine”.

We all deserve love, protection, honesty, intimacy, human touch, compassion, laughter, joy, light-heartedness, to feel safe, etc. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to cultivate these things for yourself. Once that is accomplished, there is a deep sense of mastery in life whereby relapses, triggered by rejection or other incidents outside of our control, become easier to manage and the duration shorter. Life will still have its difficult days, but you’ll be less likely to be moved from “the center” that you cultivated over time that is “yours”.

I’m still active in this journey towards wholeness and healing. I still have both good and bad days. I feel I bounce back more quickly and am more “separate”, allowing for distance and space between myself and those who have harmed me. That space provides peace, and even, joy, at times.

I hope this New Year finds you focused on your well-being, safety, and healing. Much joy and light along your path. We are all just trying to find our way. We all hold a deep reservoir of love, peace, joy, and light within us. May all of these things grow within you this year. That is my hope for myself and you! Thanks for reading!

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Snowflakes and Forgiveness: Letting Go and Living after Trauma

The following video is one I created using an older blog post and stock images from Storyblocks.com. I am new to this process, but decided to go ahead and share. I am hoping to develop my skills in creating videos and then post them to YouTube, as well as my blog.

This post is about letting go and forgiving both the self and others after surviving trauma. I have lived through the childhood trauma of being molested at the tender age of 4 by a next-door neighbor. In my adult life, I have lived through two abusive relationships, one with someone I had planned to marry and another with my nuclear family. The video below takes a post that I wrote a few years back, and uses the imagery of a snowstorm as a metaphor of letting go and forgiving, thus becoming “lighter in life”. Snow always covers up the rougher edges of life and instills calm and peace. I hope you enjoy!

Letting Go of the Shame Caused by Stigma

Me and Gracie!

That’s me above, and my pup, Gracie.  This picture was taken nearly 5 years ago while I was still working.  I was living in Seattle, WA at the time, and working in a long term facility as a recreation therapist (CTRS).  And, trust me, even while donning a huge smile, I was severely anxious and struggling! 


Since then, I’ve been approved for SSDI and have been focusing on rebuilding my health, one day at a time. My  hope is to live gracefully with my illnesses of: Bipolar I, PTSD, ADHDOCD, and PMDD. I have learned to accept my illness and am acquiring new skills and approaches to cope more effectively.
 
The suffering I’ve endure related to my mental illness has been amplified by the stigma and the shame surrounding it.  It has taken me years to separate myself from the symptoms that my illness has caused and the stigma that is perpetuated by those who lack the awareness and sensitivity to understand my struggle. The shame I feel from having an illness has significantly decreased over time, as I have worked to cultivate acceptance and compassion for my struggle.
  
The “stigma and shame” surrounding the “suffering” can, at times, exacerbate the severity of my illness. It has taken years of healing to separate the “suffering” from the “stigma” and the “shame” that often accompanies mental illness. I share in the following paragraphs how the suffering, which is often biological for me, has been impacted by the stigma I’ve faced, which inadvertently causes shame. Being able to see these as independent from one another, has allowed me to move further along in my healing process. 
        
What do I mean by my “suffering”? 

My “suffering” is my life-long struggle with an illness that causes chemical changes in my brain that are often difficult for me to manage and control. I never chose to be mentally ill, not for a certain time period, or even for a day! In fact, my illness began when I was in the “prime” of my life! I was captain and MVP of the swim team, had a leading role in the school musical, and was well supported by my friends and church. Like many others who struggle, I was active and involved prior to the onset of my mental illness. My illness began around my sophomore year, and it crept along, gaining momentum, until one day it was painfully obvious to others that something was just “not right”.  In my case, my struggle presented itself as a combination of symptoms that included: obsessive & intrusive thoughts, delusions, anxietypanic attacksdepression, and disassociation. I was acutely aware that my thought processes were somewhat “off” and I decided, on my own, to seek treatment. It was unsettling to me at the time and caused me much distress.
  
I have often made the comparison that my “suffering” is much like having an onslaught of bad “side effects” to a prescribed medication, except that the symptoms are often more severe than that of side effects and the onset and duration of symptoms can be unpredictable and uncertain. For example, too much caffeine may cause some to experience symptoms comparable to mild mania in that they may be: edgy, anxious, irritable, energetic, even euphoric, etc.  Their mind might even race and they may feel overly optimistic about what they can accomplish.  Depression can feel somewhat like taking too much Benadryl for an allergy attack: one can feel foggy, exhausted, excessively sleepy, and withdrawn.  In drawing these comparisons, I am trying to help a person who doesn’t suffer understand that the symptoms are not only biological, like side effects that must wear off, but they are also difficult to “snap out off”.  Unfortunately, for the sufferer, it is not as easy as discontinuing a medication to stop the unwanted side effects. 
  
Thus, my “suffering” is a lot like clipping along and doing “ok” and then being suddenly blindsided by a cycle of unwanted “side effects” in which there is no escape.  Sounds like a personal hell, right?  It is. This is the suffering that most people (unless they experience it) do not understand, while some others do not even acknowledge. Medication and other approaches (mediation, therapy, etc.) can sometimes alleviate or decrease symptoms, but many of us suffer for years, on and off, endlessly trying to “escape” a chemical imbalance that causes the illness.  

The Stigma: 

Unfortunately, because mental illness is often misunderstood, I’ve had to “suffer” in world that stigmatizes and shames those struggling.  There are many people that question the validity of mental illness and have unfair and unrealistic expectations of those struggling. I can remember being released from my first hospital stay and friends laughing at me or telling me I just need to “snap out of it”. I even had a counselor in college who told me, I needed to “pull my boots straps up, and try harder”. Obviously, this caused me immense shame as I blamed myself when I struggled to control my moods or manage my level of anxiety. This compounded my anxiety and depression as I felt ostracized from others and would resort to “self-loathing” when my illness became episodic and I couldn’t “snap out of it”. I often blamed myself and became more alienated. I was diagnosed before the internet was in existence and couldn’t reach out to “social media” or on-line groups for support.  
  
Often people who have a mental illness feel that they must hide their struggle from the workplace, for fear of retaliation. I remember after being initially diagnosed in the early 90’s with Bipolar 1, I was told to “hide” my diagnosis from others, particularly in the workplace. This only served to ramp up my anxiety as I struggled to keep everything “sucked in” and hidden from view. I have even lost jobs and experienced discrimination in the workplace when requesting help in the form of accommodations. My struggle was often viewed as not credible and I was seen as a “troublemaker” or an “attention seeker”.
  
The stigma surrounding those struggling with a psychiatric disorder, often prevents people getting help in the workplace and seeking treatment. The effects of stigma can be devastating and can mean job losses and access to adequate care.  Many of the failures stemming from those suffering are not the fault of the individual struggling, but of the inadequate and unjust system that perpetuates stigma and negative stereotypes.  

The Shame:

The stigma can lead to a deep level of shame. Without others having the awareness and/or sensitivity of my illness, of which I felt I had to “hide”, there were times I was misunderstood. I might have been seen as haughty or short when I had to disappear quickly to manage an escalating panic attack. I may have been viewed as uninterested or unmotivated on a day when I was struggling with my depression. My symptoms were often misinterpreted as my personality, and this caused me conflicts with others. In time, I could see clearly that my illness had robbed me of my potential in the workplace, but NOT of my talent, motivation, experience, or passion. It was often how I decompensated during times of stress, due to my illness, that wrecked me. And my frantic efforts to to feign “normalcy” only exacerbated things, until I just “quit” abruptly, or began missing too much work.
 
These lived experiences of struggling, experiencing stigma, and then feeling shame, ultimately caused me to respect my illness, for what it truly is: a devastating biological illness that affects my mood and perceptions which is often visibly seen through my behaviors. I began to see the distinction between myself, when I am suffering, and myself when I am not. I started to challenge myself in the midst of my suffering to let go of the shame that I had relating to my behavior when sick.  I could see that focusing on the negative behaviors that arise during an episode, often served to keep me hooked in a cycle of shame and regret.  Instead, I decided to give the illness the respect it deserved and I spent time finding ways to aggressively fight it and keep it at bay. 
 
If you are like me, if will more than likely rear its ugly head again, but this time when it does, I have decided to forgive myself, instead of lamenting the mistakes made when chained against my will, and suffering with a serious mental illness. Now, I get busy working to “get ahead” of the next episode.  I’ve decided to be like a hunter and become skilled at tracking it down, intercepting it, hopefully before it escalates too much. And even, if I become ill, and things “get messy”, I quickly return to practicing self compassion and respecting the chronic mental illness that I live with that takes immense effort to manage effectively. 

I’ve learned through a lot of years of tears and immense pain, that I don’t have to be ashamed anymore. I also acknowledge that many people are going to misunderstand my illness and there is only so much I can do to educate and inform others. My hope is through writing I can help others better understand what it has been like struggling now for nearly 32 years with a severe and persistent mental illness. And, I am immensely proud of the courage and persistence I espouse, despite the often insurmountable odds I’ve faced living in a world that is still sometimes not accepting or sensitive to my struggle. I hope this helps others. If it does, I am even more grateful for what I’ve lived through and survived. 

Surviving Being The Scapegoat

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Looking back at the last few years, I wonder, how I even survived it all. Watching helplessly as my family was annihilated by addiction and sociopathy while at the same time, being devalued, discarded, and invalidated by my own mother. Constantly signaling alarm, seeing the writing on the wall, and forecasting the devastation with surprising accuracy… but doing so alone and alienated. And doing so while being gaslighted, shift-blamed, stone-walled, and discredited. It has been really hard. And it has hurt me, both physically and emotionally.

The times I’ve dropped to the floor wincing in pain, sobbing loudly. Or the times, I’ve had to take a muscle relaxer or two and an Ativan to be able to breathe, because I am holding the tension and my breathe so tightly that I become fearful that I might soon find myself in the ER. Submerging my body into the hot bath water I poured with Epsom salts, trying my best to regain balance and bring myself back to baseline. This is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). And this is what it causes for me.

I have lost my ability to work for now and am doing my best to rebound after relapsing and becoming severely depressed. I even have experienced difficultly swallowing for nearly a year (still struggle somewhat) and lost 80 pounds in a short 6 months. And the last year, as the Coronavirus raged on, so did my rage with my family as it became more evident that my sister’s wrath towards me was intentional and my Mother’s complacency more visible than ever. I was told by my sister that I was hated, no longer part of the family, and denied the joyous occasion of the birth of my great nephew. I reacted to the abuse, at times, poorly, I admit. And yet, it dawned on me this year that I was in a losing battle. Nothing I could say or do would prevent my sister’s manifesto to character smear me and destroy any familial bonds I had left. My pleas for her to get help for her addiction fell on deaf ears, while she continued to deny and lie her way through losing custody of her grandchild and him testing positive for ingesting Meth. Even my own mother lied to cover up that my great nephew, a 3 year old, tested positive for ingesting meth. These lies, among other abusive tactics made to equate my reactions to the abuse to the ACTUAL abuse that was occurring, further alienated me from my family during a time the whole world was dealing with the alienation surrounding a “global pandemic”. When commercials on TV boasted of “staying home” and how family was so important, mine was becoming blown apart at the seems.

There were weeks that I was wrapped up, consumed, and lost in the grief of losing an entire family, knowing instinctively, and through years of observation, that it wasn’t just an addiction, but sociopathy that wreaked havoc on every member of my family. And while doing so, my Mom turned a blind eye to the pain and devastation that kept mounting for all of us. My step-Dad was never present, nor was he a part of any endeavor to protect us. And so, now what is left, is an epic mess of a broken and disordered family system that is too fractured to reconcile. It would take a miracle of sorts to fix what has been broken. Two family members are now severely mentally disabled due to the drug use and the deep neglect and enabling they endured when they took the same road as their mother. One is quickly speeding towards disability as we speak. Another has lost custody of her two children and is in rehab, but this situation remains tenuous and fragile, especially if she goes back to the same environment where she was using. And as for me, there does come a point where you have to walk away and say ENOUGH is ENOUGH. I do realize that so much of the devastation is being perpetuated by historical cycles of abuse and the negative coping mechanisms resulting from having endured it. My mother, sister, and step-father all have their own personal struggles and I do feel they often are completely unaware and divorced from their own negative ways of coping that are hurtful to me. Some of what they do that is hurtful is not intentional, but it does not dismiss the complacency that often follows and the lack of action that occurs after an apology. My attempts to have equal power and influence in the family, whereby my needs are met, are often ignored and not acted on and it just ends up a very negative and damaging cycle. When I attempt to get my needs met with my sister, it is often met with disdain and abuse and I am belittled and quickly discarded and ignored.

I deserve a safe, loving, kind family. One that cares to call and check in on me and ask about my life.

And so, I am writing this today as I wish to again ACCEPT the devastation and MOVE FORWARD. Writing about the pain might help others reading know that they are not alone. Some pain, especially involving “family hurts”, truly runs deep.

Some days, I go back and massage the hurts and again, feel the depth of what I lost. I still feel in many ways, perhaps, at least with my sister, that I haven’t had much of an amenable, reciprocal relationship for decades now. Putting the words down on paper, visibly, helps to provide the distance needed to heal.

It allows me to validate my own inner experience while simultaneously having hope that someone out there is reading this and relating and feels less lonely in their struggle.

It is hard sometimes. But, we survive the hard days when accepting the truth. I am surviving them by also expressing my truth. I do so, anymore, unapologetically. I do so now without self-loathing. In time, I will be past the pain and will be in a different spot altogether. Until then, this is how I am moving forward and surviving the loss.

My life has the potential to be peaceful and fulfilling. I am slowly releasing the grip history has had on me. I am writing my own script and practicing compassion and forgiveness.

And I am releasing and distancing from any and all expectations I have from my “family”.

I realize every individual in my family has their own struggle, their own pain, and their own ways of coping…. be it positive or negative. I will not return to the negative ways of coping. There is a new dawn and I will not fear flying solo when I’ve learned over time that I have already been doing so… just with so much weight on my wings.

I am OK and I am ENOUGH.

In ways this global pandemic has overshadowed and paralleled my own personal struggles and fears. It has forced me to look inward, while at the same time, providing a bird’s eye view of both the tragedy and miracle of life. It has given me pause to appreciate what I have taken for granted, while affording the time to accept “what is” and work to create the space and distance needed to provide peace.

I feel we are living in extraordinarily spiritual times. And my road has lead me down a path of solitude for now. I may get a little lost at times, but I am on the path towards forgiveness and compassion.

I wish you light along your journey.

Holding onto Hope for Your Recovery

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I have never struggled with substance abuse. I have struggled with an addiction of another type, gambling. I once had to ban myself from all nearby casinos. I still struggle sometimes, but it is not much of a problem anymore.
On the other hand, many in my family have struggled for years with chronic and severe addiction. I love them and I know it is a disease, yet, my heart has been broken more times than I can count from this family affliction. It has taken time and years from our family and caused a lot of friction, distance, and worry.
Somehow, every now and again, they resurface and contact is again granted to me. This time it is a loss of custody of their 2 children. It is really important for them to recover and remain sober if they want to regain custody. We are in the space of not knowing if the disease will win or not. There is someone I love very much wrestling with the decision of going to rehab this very night.


And so, I just wanted to put this out there.
To anyone struggling with addiction:


Please know that you are loved deeply. There will always be someone who longs for you to resurface and recover. Even in the darkest of storms where you feel the high tide will overcome you, there is still hope. I say this because I have seen it happen. Not with my family, yet. But, I always hold out a small flicker of hope, always being fanned by the breathe of life and love that dwells deep within all of us. Love is stronger than the devastation caused by this disease. This I do know.
I have been guilty of lashing out when losing so many of my loved ones to this disease. Many holidays spent alone, in tears, in anguish. Many harsh words spit from my tongue. And still yet, I will always soften to the possibility and the hope that someday they will resurface. That I can laugh with them again and reunite. That we can spend time with ease, not tension, where I have to hold my breathe.
This is not to guilt anyone. The disease is real and it affects the entire family. Remember that. Those who are hurting and lashing out in fear and helplessness when addiction has taken hold, are also afflicted with the same disease. Practice self compassion. Soften to the truth that it is a true disease. Take the time to heal, to forgive yourself, and others. And remember, you are loved.

It is just one step… at a time… asking for help. You don’t need to know all the answers. No one holds them. We are all just searching in the end.


I hope someone struggling reads this and decides to make that difficult choice to get help, now. I promise someone is longing for you to resurface. And rediscovering yourself will be the greatest gift.

YOU deserve that.
Love and light to you. Let’s keep the hope and faith alive.