We don’t need the Olympics of pain

On May 15th I stood in front of a bunch of people and gave a speech, voluntarily. The purpose of this entire post might just be to tell you all simply that because I am so proud of it! 🙂 Okay, it was a very messed up speech and I got way too emotional but nevertheless unlike my master thesis defense I didn’t faint at any point, so good job me! As May is mental health awareness month, our support group was chosen to be part of the global Ally program of a mental health NGO based in Chicago (details after June 5th when we become officially a part of them). We are the first group based out of the US to be chosen so me and Livia were pretty stoked. We hosted an Art for mental health event and talked Art, suicide and self awareness, there might have been beers involved, but come on, its Germany!

All of this talk about suicide has become so routine that sometimes it bothers me how much it doesn’t bother me to talk about it now. But in all of those talks there are some details that I always conveniently side step, for instance the why of it, not because it emotionally draining to talk about but I am embarrassed by it, so terribly embarrassed. There wasn’t any point getting up there and talking if I couldn’t be honest to myself and others. So here is what I did, I told them a story first, the story of a space shuttle flight. It goes like this,

In 2003, mission STS-107 space shuttle Columbia took off for a fifteen day orbital mission around the earth. This was the 115th flight of the space shuttle program and a pretty routine one at that, but for the whole of India it was a pretty special mission since Indian born astronaut, Kalpana Chawla was on board as one of the mission specialists. As we all now know Columbia didn’t make it back to earth, it disintegrated on reentry, killing all seven astronauts on board. Until that day there hadn’t been a loss of crew for NASA on reentry so this was a complete shock to the entire space community. All the subsequent space shuttle missions were shelved and the investigations went on for two years, what the committee found out at the end of the investigation was pretty heartbreaking.

When Columbia took off fifteen days before the fatal accident, a piece of the foam insulation from the external fuel tank hit the right wing of the shuttle. Now, this was obvious from the launch footage. Nobody thought it could have done any serious damage  for two things, one- this has happened in a number of previous space shuttle launches and two-because it was a piece of thermocol (which is lighter than air) hitting a structure made of carbon reinforced carbon ( which is, well as strong as it sounds ). But, it did do damage to the heat shield and the shuttle didn’t survive the heat of the reentry.

Here is the deal, Columbia accident could have been easily prevented but no-one absolutely no-one saw it coming.

The point of me bringing up this whole story was just to say that sometimes we realize the breaking points only when we get there. For Columbia it was a piece of foam and for me it was a handsome Mexican boy.

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Credits: wuukasch

I know that I am stretching the story to the limits here, but my fuck-patriarchy-feminist-self needed something to lean on when telling a bunch of people (friends and strangers) that I tried taking my life for a boy. There might have been a whole bunch of repressed childhood trauma that might have made that depression as bad as it was but I cannot kid myself out of the truth. I am ashamed of it, but that is may be exactly why I had to say that. Because we are not running an Olympics of pain here my dears.

It may be high time we stop trying to one up our trauma stories and stop romanticizing heartbreak (of any kind) so much. Because there was absolutely nothing romantic about wanting to die day in day out. Out of all the heartbreaking suicide survival stories that people have told me over the past two years my reason is the silliest but that isn’t going to stop me from telling this openly again, because for all of you out there who are feeling shitty about feeling all the things that you are feeling and not finding a good enough excuse for it, here, you have a person who messed up big time for something very very silly.

As you can see I am very good at making circumlocutory stories 😀 in the next post I would write about the art and mental health part of the speech and put up the video if I feel adventurous or may be not! Let’s see.

Its been long again. How have you all been?

Love and hugs

Jo

 

 

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!

mental-health
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

 

40 feel good activities for when you are broke

Walking barefoot in the sand.

Painting with your hands.

Writing a postcard to your favorite author/singer/actor.

Sending that postcard.

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Handwritten letters.

Learning the lyrics to your favorite song.

Singing along to your favorite song.

Singing along to your favorite song in the shower.

Long showers.

Putting up fairy lights in your room.

Making a collage of all your favorite photos.

Going to the explore page of Instagram.

 

Memorizing your favorite poem.

Going to the sneak previews.

Volunteering at a film festival.

Burning an incense.

Burning candles.

Thrift store shopping.

Picnic in the park by yourself.

Picnic in the park with your buddies.

Writing a letter to your crush that you would never dare send.

Find out if there is a Museum day in your city and going art watching.

Inviting a friend over for a movie night.

Trying a new hairstyle from a YouTube tutorial.

Free hugs.

Going crazy at an All-you-can-eat-buffet.

Putting on your favorite dress and watching Netflix.

Find out a part of your city you haven’t seen and be a tourist for a day.

Go on free walking tours.

Sky gazing.

Learning to identify one constellation other than the The big Dipper or Cassiopeia.

Watching the sunrise.

Watching the sunset.

Rereading your favorite book (hint:The harry potter series).

Photoshop yourself to a picture of a place that you really want to visit.

Reorganize your room.

Draw on your walls.

Drawing stars on your ceiling.

Building a water bottle rocket.

Starting a Youtube channel/ WordPress blog/ Instagram page for that skill you have been hiding all along.

 

 

 

 

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

gaiman-discontent

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!”