Rest in peace Amy Bleuel: The Semicolon Project

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” A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life. ”

It is heartbreaking to think that Amy is no longer here with us. She has been out in the world constantly trying to raise awareness and educating people about the importance of overcoming the deep rooted mental health stigma. Whenever I have tried finding some resources online, I have read a story or two about how this project saved someone’s life and gave them hope.

Thanks for all that you did Amy. We know there is long way to go, but your efforts will not go in vain because your story isn’t over;

Rest in Peace. Love ❤

Mental health over every damn thing

Do you know that ideal image of a ‘self made person’ ? How about we stop celebrating that?

We talk a lot about mental health stigma these days, but isn’t an important piece missing in those discussions? The stigma inside our heads? The voice that keeps us from reaching out for help? The voice that tells us constantly to be an adult and get over it? To try a bit harder?

One of the hardest challenges I have faced in the past seven months of organizing a support group is convincing people that it is okay to get some help. No one, not one person who showed up believed that they deserved  help. The discussions always went in the direction of ‘there are so many people in the world that have it worse, maybe I should stop complaining’. This involved a girl who wanted to die at the age of seven because her alcoholic parents threw her out of her home, not that you need such a reason to feel bad, just so you get an idea of how far the stigma goes!

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Found here

May be you are right, things aren’t so bad for you now. But does that mean you should wait until it gets worse?  If you were having a flu would you feel guilty for taking a day off?  Would you feel guilty going to a doctor if the flu doesn’t get better after a few days? Imagine that you mind had a small flu if it helps.

May be it is not that you are not trying hard enough, may be you are not getting the right kind of help.

Let me tell you a story, there was a time when self harm was my answer to pain. I found refuge in that. I didn’t know it was something other people also did. I felt ashamed, and  told myself a million times not to do it, it didn’t work, people told me not to do it, it didn’t work. Then I went to the clinic and there they asked me to try holding an ice pack, or to try drawing on my body with a red pen, or to put a cream on my skin that gives a burning sensation but doesn’t do any  real damage, and some of those things worked and they still help me when I get that urge again.Do you see what I am trying to say? There are a lot of resources out there that you might not know of.

Don’t get me wrong, we all have strengths within us to do every fucking thing, but does that mean we always have to do things alone?

I cannot think of many things that are important than your health and that involves your mental health as well. Please put it above every damn thing!

Love ,

Jo

 

 

The ways art can help

Kandinsky heard brassy trumpet tones when he painted the color yellow. He theorized that by mixing colors you can produce vibrational frequencies like the chords on a piano. That was his motivation when he painted a series of ten Compositions, each of which supposedly could evoke a spiritual resonance with the viewer. In other words each of these paintings can make us feel like we are listening to musical piece. I knew none of this when I first saw the following painting.

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Composition vii (1913): Wassily Kandinsky

This painting was on the walls of the clinic corridor the first time I was here. Kandinsky’s name sounded vaguely familiar. Back then modern art made me feel really insecure.Every modern abstract art piece made me feel two things, the first thought is kind of universal, 1. My cat can do this and then 2.I don’t understand this but I am going to pretend like I do because everyone else thinks this is cool. My feelings for composition vii were no different at first. But every time I walked past it I was stopping for a couple of seconds to catch a glimpse. Then one day one of the night nurses had to bring me a chair because I was apparently standing and staring at this painting for according to her Eine ewigkeit. Also, it would be nice to point out that it was a time when I had given up on getting better. So why was I looking at this my-cat-can-do painting at 3 am in the morning? The simplest answer would be that it made me feel something. And that something came after several long days of nothingness. And that meant a whole lot.

That was two years ago, over this time I have learned that Kandinsky had lived, learned and painted in Munich. Now I hold a yearly pass to the Lenbachhaus which holds many of his works. One of the interesting things I saw there is the preparatory works  Kandinsky made for this particular Composition, Composition vii. More than 30 paintings in watercolors and oil precede the final piece. So every brush stroke, every color in this painting is deliberately planned. Okay, my cat won’t be able to do that.

The good thing about an inpatient psychiatric clinic (a good one) is that it introduces you to a lot of things, medication, mindfulness, sports, arts, psychotherapy, cooking, gardening and the list goes on. This is saying something very important about mental health care in general. There is no one-cure-for-all when it comes to mental health. It might one of these things that helps you or it might be all of these things. For me it apparently is art.

I have come a long long way since the night I felt an emotional resonance with a painting that was made 104 years before I was born.

Now when I think back to that day I think I realize why it was so powerful. Back then people were telling me about how if I took up jogging or meditation or prayer, things might get better, but that painting showed me a glimpse of that ‘better’.

I cannot possibly end this without telling you about my favorite painting.

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Nighthawks (1942) : Edward Hopper

 

I have written here before about how I want to build a used bookstore+art salon that is open at 3am. This painting for me captures a lot of intangible complexities of that time. More on that later.

Thanks for all the emails and messages after reading my last post. It really meant a lot <3.

Love

Jo

A letter from the rehab

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I ended up at the rehab again. This is the third time in the past three years. Things have gotten a lot better during this time. My doctor told to think of this as a pause and not a step back. So that is what I am doing.

I wanted writing to be my thing. The thing that would help me through the blues but apparently it isn’t. Finishing that short paragraph took a lot of mental gymnastics.

There is a lady here who is perpetually talking, she just told me to ‘fuck off’ in German. It’s nothing personal, she says that to everyone.

I have been taking six showers a day because it helps, I know it is bad for the environment but I am not eating meat for now, so hope that evens it out?

We wake up at 6.45 everyday.

Someone plays the piano everyday.

There is a new print of the Nighthawks on the wall, it wasn’t here last year. I can look at all day.

I take therapy in German which is also different from the last two times.

They still call me by my last name which I hate.

Why do hospital food always suck?

We eat breakfast in silence, we talk a lot during lunch and eat dinner again in silence. I wonder why that is.

Sometimes we play board games.

My roommate has to pack her entire suitcase every time she leaves the room. She is scared I am going to steal her things. But she is nice to me otherwise.

She snores but I don’t mind.

It has been raining a lot.

I am rereading the harry potter series.

Is it different to be depressed when you have money? Yes, it is a lot better when you can buy books and art supplies (also, when you are not worried about how to make rent) So now I buy my share of happiness with money. That helps.

I don’t know what to tell my friends, they think I am on holidays.

My boss knows, he said to take my time. How do I always end up with kind people?

It would have been nice to have someone to hug.

I have been painting a lot, sometimes that is all I do. Is any of you on Instagram? you can find me as @galaxiesinamasonjar. I pretend to be funny there, that helps too

Love,

Jo

 

Maybe it is okay not to be grateful all the time.

It could be worse.

There are people who go to bed hungry every night.

You are lucky, look at all the things you have.

All of the above statements are so very true. Almost all the problems pale in comparison to someone having to live day-in-day-out in hunger. Perhaps, if we were to make a priority list of all the problems humanity has to solve, eradicating hunger should be on the top of the list. Let us say we manage to provide a person living in perpetual hunger with a life where they will never have to be poor or hungry again, would gratefulness be the only thing they then feel their whole life?  Would they be able to get through all the heartbreaking instances of life with that one thought of at least I am not poor anymore? I am grateful that I never had to experience poverty, more grateful than I could ever express through writing. But am I then allowed to be discontented about certain other things?  Racism? Homophobia? Rampant mental health stigma? Sexism?

For me, when I am one hundred percent grateful about something it’s because I like the way the thing or situation is, in other words, I would not want it to change. But there are many things about me that I would like to change and it usually makes me very guilty that I am not always grateful about life.

I got an opportunity to live and study abroad about four years ago, all of my friends and family were very happy for me. A lot of people sent me messages saying they were proud of my achievements. After I finished the master’s program I was offered a PhD position in a national space agency, but then nobody was happy nor proud of me. Because I was 27 years old and marriage should have been the next logical step in my life. The messages I received told me something along the lines of, think of all the girls who did not get an opportunity to go to school at all, here you got the opportunity to study in a foreign country, now that is enough, get married. Yes, I was thankful to have had an amazing opportunity to study at one of the world’s best engineering institutions but was I then wrong to have been discontented about being forced to make a decision I did not want to?

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Found here

You know what, I was not.

This argument of always be grateful is usually made in mental health related discussions quite a lot, wherein depression is said as a lack of gratitude. Most of the times it comes from a well-meaning place. The intention might be to make someone aware that everything isn’t as bad as they think it is and there is still hope. But that one phrase dismisses a person’s right to feel bad, and nobody should have to earn their right to feel bad. Now I know how privileged I was to have had an insurance that paid my stay at a psychiatric ward and to have a group of friends who took care of me like family in a foreign country- my mental health is stable enough to appreciate those facts now but it didn’t help to hear it back then.

When someone is going through pain might not be the best time to remind them to be grateful. There is a time to do it when they are better able to appreciate the whole picture, when they have gotten some space from their pain, when they are able to be rational and logical about it, when they can grab a yellow legal pad and make a pro and con list.

Gratitude and discontent can exist hand in hand. We can be thankful about something and discontented about something else. Maybe the magic is finding that balance and it is something we can learn and practice. It always helps to appreciate the big picture and sometimes even to write down all the things that are good in our lives so that we don’t forget them but it is okay not to be like that all the time. Last time I checked we haven’t yet turned to robots, and as long as we have a beating heart we are going to be not grateful from time to time and that is OKAY!

I will leave you with a quote that I absolutely love

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Hugs

Jo

Footnote: Madelyn left a comment and I thought it is important to share it here.

YES! “Gratitude and discontent can exist hand in hand.” Important point and great post.

Those “positivity purveyors” have missed the point of gratitude entirely, IMHO. It’s not designed to be denial’s handmaiden. It’s a technique for helping us weather our storms by encouraging us to focus on what we *can* be grateful for – *after* we’ve acknowledged the fact that sometimes things just suck (without measuring it by degrees in comparison to anyone else challenges and sorrows).

AND, it is not kind in the slightest to attempt to drag somebody over the positivity line when what s/he needs is a loving ear to listen while she pours her heart out. It’s not THEIR job to remind you to be grateful – you’ll get to that all by yourself when the time is right – if they’d only commiserate or be silent.

Would they overstep a mother’s grief after the death of a child, encouraging her to be grateful for the ones she has left because some people aren’t even able to conceive? SAME THING.
xx,
mgh
(Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
– ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
“It takes a village to educate a world!”

How can I help someone who is going through depression?

Stop saying bullshit! That was the title of this article when I first tried writing it a few months ago. I am glad I did not write it, it would have been a very bad one. Supporting someone through depression is not an easy task.

  • Depression is an umbrella term that we use in today’s vocabulary, it can mean that we just had a bad day or something more complex and not summarizable in one sentence. So without knowing what exactly the person is going through, it is very easy to give them the wrong advice
  • People going through depression can be very irritable and can be difficult to approach.
  • There can be a tendency to be reclusive and cut down contacts when you are trying to help.
  • It can be so hard to realize a loved one is going through depression because people can go out of their way to show that they are doing okay.

I have always wondered why people were telling me the wrong things and used to strongly believe that if I ever had to support someone through it I would do a very good job of it. But now that the tables have turned, I realize how challenging a task that is! I have found myself saying unhelpful things and trying to problem solve when all they might be looking for is a person listening to them without judgment. A few months ago I started a local depression support group, it was an impulsive decision, which in general is the story of my life. Maybe some of you remember, since I wrote about it back then, you can read it here.

Luckily now I have two co-organizers and we try our best to fight our impulse to overwhelm people with suggestions and advice and we encourage each other to pause and think about how the things we say can have an effect on the person. Supporting is not a substitute for therapy or medication but it can do wonders in the recovery journey of a person. We have been discussing things that have helped all of us in our recovery journey and the following things come up very often.

 

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Not always obvious you know

 

 

Ways to help

  • It is not about us, it is not that WE should help them, it is that they should get help in any possible way. So if our role involves guiding them to someone else, please do not hesitate. This involves recommending them to consult a therapist or reaching for emergency services if the situation demands it. Their health is the priority here. Period.
  • Sometimes help is letting them vent.
  • Hugs- This is not universal. Not everyone wants to be touched. So talk to them and see if they would like that. I for one would have really liked to be hugged a lot more.
  • Try to be kinder than you have to be- Because a person might seem completely fine on the outside but we can never know what is going on inside them if they don’t want us to know.
  • Try not to assume that you know what they are feeling- Every person is different and there might be a lot of reasons contributing to the depression that they are experiencing, so phrases like ‘I know exactly how you are feeling’ might not be of help
  • Ask them questions- This is very helpful. We all have that instinct to problem solve and a depressed person get offered a lot of suggestions on a daily basis which might not be always helpful. Asking questions show that you care and you are taking the time to know what they are going through. But, it doesn’t mean to overwhelm them with harmful ‘Why are depressed?’ sort of questions but questions like How are you today? Have you been sleeping well? Have you been eating well etc
  • Ask them ” How can I help? ” “Would it help if we did XYZ?”
  • Even the smallest of tasks can be overwhelming to a person going through depression, this is an area where we can help a lot. It may be trying to help find a therapist, helping them shop for groceries or cleaning up their apartment.
  • Cooking a healthy meal for them- Chances are the person is skipping meals or eating unhealthy food so it might make them feel good to have a wholesome meal once in a while.
  • Helping them sort out their finances- This is another tricky area. Depression can mess up one’s finances big time. It might be an are where you could help a lot as well. This does not mean to give them money but if the person is not in a position to work and is in a financially difficult situation you can try to find help from local mental health charities.
  • Give them time- Recovery looks different for different people. One of the worst feelings I had in my recovery was to see the supporters losing faith and growing impatient.
  • Please refrain from telling them to ” jog or meditate and then you will be fine- Physical activities like jogging or swimming can, without doubt, help a person stay mentally healthy but let them take it at their own pace, you can start by encouraging short outdoor walks or activities that do not require so much energy and help them stick with it.
  • Different things work for different people- propose things taking this into account, I am an introverted person so the cheering up plans most of my friends used to suggest, like going out to parties was not very helpful.
  • Make sure they are going to the therapy appointments and taking medication if they have to, maybe offer to accompany them if they find it helpful
  • Don’t be hard on yourself- Your health is also important and we can all make mistakes, there are no quick fixes or magical words that can cure depression in one day, so when you don’t exactly know what to say, don’t panic. We have all been there. Please don’t stop helping someone because you once said a wrong thing.
  • It is not the time to preach the need for gratitude or for tough love. In detail here
  • Take good care of yourself- It is difficult to see your loved one in so much pain and not being able to do anything about it, it isn’t your fault.

What are some of the things that have helped you?

Jo

Survivor’s arrogance

Let me put it out there, there is no shame in getting help for a psychiatric illness. NONE!

Mental health is fluid, it can change for a myriad of reasons. A shitty childhood, genetics, trauma, biology, circumstances, sometimes all of it but most importantly  sometimes without any recognizable reason whatsoever. So when you say things like ‘What do you have to be depressed about?’ or ‘Get your shit together’ or ‘I have it worse than you, but I am handling it’, you aren’t helping. If you are handling whatever it is that you are handling, then good for you, but everybody has different sensitivities and past experiences, it could also be that someone is tired of having had to handle themselves over and over again.

When a person had been living with a psychiatric illness for a long time, they also develop a kind of bullshit sensor, simple definition- we will know bullshit when we hear it! That comes from having to listen to the plethora of ‘advice’ that come our way on a daily basis. And, hence the above-mentioned sort of statements are only going to keep people from coming to you for help.

 

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Credit: roommatediaries.com

 

There are a group of people out there who have decided to make a race out of who has had the most fucked up life. They want to tell you that they had been through a lot and survived, not with the intention of letting you know that there is hope for you too, instead,they just want you to know that your problems do not measure up to theirs. When the language of survivors go from ” If I could get through it, so can you ” to ” If I could get through it, so SHOULD you ” then we have survivor’s arrogance. And, that should stop!!

So be very clear on one thing folks, you don’t have to earn any right to feel the way you are feeling. You don’t owe the world any explanation for your demons. And, don’t feel smaller for having to take your meds. We all need help at times.

There is a great chance that you cannot fix somebody using just your words, think of it as trying to put a band-aid on an internal wound. But you might be able to make them feel a bit better in that moment by listening without judgments. And, ask questions to know things, don’t just make assumptions. Here are are some statements/ questions my  friends and family used that has helped me in the past – ‘What can I do to help?, ‘I am here for you’ ‘I am sorry you feel this way’ and finally one of the simplest and  powerful, ‘How are you today?’

Let’s all be kind with our words today.

Good day everyone

–Jo

PS: A person on the verge of suicide can looking absolutely fine on the outside.