The Face of Mental Illness – 11/10/2013

Image submitted via email at thefaceofmentalillness@gmail.com

Image submitted via email at thefaceofmentalillness@gmail.com

My name is Anne. I am a mother of two beautiful, sweet, and bright daughters. I am a wife to one fun-loving man (When he’s not fighting his own mental illnesses and sometimes when he is!). I am a daughter of religious enthusiasts (Parents belong to a religious cult that I was raised in.). I am the oldest of four children. I am a former business owner. I am a current caretaker of my husband and two daughters.

This is the first time I’ve ever been so open and honest about my mental illness. I have PTSD from my childhood. I have been to many therapists and have improved, but there are still triggers. Most of my life I’ve been able to hide my inner battle and keep it secret. People probably thought I came across as cold, uncaring, or weird, when inside I was fighting a battle to ‘keep it together’ because of some trigger.

I also have Chaetophobia (Fear of hair – for me, especially free floating hair that’s touching me). Unfortunately, this phobia seems to be getting gradually worse. I’ve always been able to hide it, but lately it seems it takes everything I have to keep myself from going into complete ‘freak out mode’ when I get a hair on or near me (Mine or someone else’s.). Part of me realizes how completely silly this is – but then there’s the other part who just can’t handle it, no matter how illogical it seems.

I also have Koinoiphobia (Fear of groups. For me, anything over four adults is considered a group.). I try to avoid groups and find myself wearing clothes to blend in, especially in a crowd (Maybe no one will notice me? Please?). When I am in a crowd, it’s very difficult to not run to the nearest bathroom and stay in there until everyone is gone, or stay in my car where it’s quiet and safe! I just want to hide somewhere I feel safe. I always come across angry when I’m in a group. But I’m not angry, I am just fighting myself to be there. It’s exhausting, as groups are kind of a part of life.

That’s the ‘real’ me. The one I always try to hide from everyone. The part I keep in the shadows of myself. The one I’ve always feared letting out.

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Image submitted via email at thefaceofmentalillness@gmail.com

Image submitted via email at thefaceofmentalillness@gmail.com

I always thought it was just “mood swings”…. I didn’t think I needed a diagnosis, but… I got one in my mid-twenties. I wasn’t really surprised, in fact… I expected SOMEthing to be “wrong” with me. I knew that the rapid state at which my mind spun wasn’t very healthy, and I wanted someone to recognize that.
I have been in therapy for much of my life, it has been a life saver for me- in so many ways. I started SERIOUS therapy for my “issues” when I was….somewhere in my mid-twenties. I saw her for 3 years to cope with my behaviors, stress, kids, life, school, and anything else that came up. I knew SOMEthing needed to change with me, therapy was an option- so… I took it. My therapist, Pam, was a nice woman. We clicked. I trusted her, and I opened up to her. She didn’t push meds, I liked that. I didn’t WANT meds, yet…anyway. During the time I was seeing her (sometimes twice a week) I was actively single. I had already been through a divorce at 22, and my fair share of relationships that weren’t working, this being one of the reasons I initially called her. I wasn’t emotionally healthy, and I wanted to be. I typed up a “cast list” for her, it was a compilation of people who were in my life, affect my life and otherwise need to be mentioned. Most of the people on that list I had slept with at one point. They were all my friends, so… why not? I wasn’t kidding when I said actively single, I dated (a lot). Don’t know what you like until you try it, right? (boy, does that open up a can of worms….)
I started classes at my local community college when I turned 25, I needed to wait until my boys were in school fulltime before I could quit my job and turn over a new leaf. I don’t remember the first time I heard the diagnosis bi-polar disorder in a psychology class I was taking….but- the more I read about it the more it resonated with me. I knew I had “issues”, but… I didn’t realize that “they” had a name.
After 3 years (at the ripe age of….29ish), I decided that it was too much for me. I was experiencing fits of rage, agitated depression, sleepless nights, a sexual appetite that made me think I was a sex addict, and a range of other crap. Pam was on board with me and my decision to try medication. It was never NOT an option, I just wanted to get my own shit together first before I actually walked down that road. So, now it’s time to look for a shrink…..ever tried looking for a shrink that listened to you? (for more than 10 minutes?). My first taste of meds (and a shrink) was a nightmare…. Wellbutrin, they had diagnosed me with…. (not bipolar)…. Something. They weren’t listening to me…. And, it annoyed me. Wellbutrin turned me into a totally different person, a zombie. I didn’t laugh anymore, life wasn’t FUN and EXCITING anymore…. I needed a change. So, I found a new shrink, one that came highly recommended, and… he listened.
Since 2001 I have been painting. That was the year after my brother passed in a very tragic car accident. That was the year I picked up a paintbrush, some oil pastels and a canvas. For 12 years I have been expressing myself though art and writing (however, I haven’t written much since being medicated), but the visual art…. That part I have never lost. Some days I have to fight for it, but… I always won. Or shall I say, the creative side of me always won.
Everyone loves the work I did in 2005. 2005 was one of many emotionally charged years…. Somewhere in the middle of the chaos. I loved the work that I was doing, but… it came at an emotional price. I wasn’t medicated then, my art was coming right out of my head… I lost myself in it every time. I can remember the manic nights- acrylic paint and pen & ink- back and forth, dancing with the media.
Soon after, I began medicating with pharmaceuticals. I was somewhere around 30/31 when I started taking the meds that made me “better”. Lamictal and Abilify. That was my cocktail. Seroquel when I got too manic or had too much anxiety (usually, hand in hand)…. And pot smoking always made me feel better. It also enhanced the creative side of me. Not only did I create art, I also modeled for photographers and fine art classes. I was always looking for a creative outlet, and I opened every door I could. I was just beginning to find ME.

For a few years, the meds did their job, I guess. I was still coping with some emotional issues in my life, luckily, I was still in therapy. I was looking for myself, I didn’t know WHO I was…. I just knew who I didn’t want to be. I had failed in 2 relationships after I stopped being “single”, and was looking for that “healthy” one.
I could tell stories of my role as a as a single mother, as a model, as an artist, as a survivor of domestic violence, or as a crazy as bat shit loon. But… I am here to talk about bipolar. Oh wait, those ARE all parts of me… my past has helped to define me. I have grown tremendously over the past 8 years of meds. However, it’s time. Time for me to remove that aspect of my life, and TRY to cope without them. I am tired, tired of a pill making me feel “better”, I am not sure how it will affect me. I have already (with the help of my shrink) taken myself off one. Now, it’s time for the other to go. However, I am both anxious and worried about how removing myself in the middle of grad school will affect my life.
I used to write incessantly, throwing up on the page, thoughts free flowing from my fingers. Sometimes I barely even stopped to see what I was writing. I didn’t edit, I just let it go.

2001
At the edge of the water- I sit- listen to the cracking of the waves….
the sky filled with grey- and the wind picking up speed. I can feel
dampness in the air- ready to explode down like a sheet of broken glass.
I can feel the moisture on my skin- it feels good- as the air is so
heavy- it needs to be cut. Patiently I wait for the rain to come, all
the while- I hold a stone in the palm of my hand. Projecting all of my
worries into it, feeling the energy of the dusk in my hands cascading
around the magick that I am creating.

At last- the rain falls… I raise my head to feel it fall on my face-
like warm tears… and then- a drop falls as if I was crying- and it
reminds me of my loss- and how I should heal. It felt as if my brother
were crying alongside of me – holding me- and keeping me strong.

With all of the energy I could muster- I lunge the stone into the
ocean, letting the current take all the worries away… and to deal with
them as it must.

I step away from the sea- looking into her- and all her glory….
feeling the rain in my clothes…. and smiling….. a small bit of sun
peeks through the clouds- and for a moment I could see beyond them- into
what I had been searching for….

I walked in the rain…. feeling a sense of clarity about what I must
do… and how I must achieve it- and knowing that I will always have my
brother at my side to guide me.

His death brought out my life… and the lives of so many others… and
as much as it hurts to say- had it not been for his spirit finding his
path – I would still be sitting on mine, instead of walking it with
pride.

2002
inside
wanting to scream
loud
and cry
and fight
and want
and have

Outside
laughing
smiling
loving
being

I see what I want
I see what I need
I can hold it in my mind
and it’s screaming to me
I can see it
almost touch it
but stop

desperately looking
for that place
peace
of mind
of soul
looking
searching
yearning
hoping

missing
something
feeling it inside
outside
always

solitude
from the chaos
the suspect
the bullshit

in myself
in the room
in the mind
in my life

almost touching
what I need
for inner sanctity
the essence
of my being
yet afraid to embrace
what it really means

chaos
dysfunction
eruption
without it

days
weeks
months
each day a step to it
each hour a thought of it
each minute a way to get it

too many thoughts
close the mind
to the voices
to the funk
to the dreams

reality
sets in
and
reality
bites

2005
Life is full of would ofs and could ofs and should ofs, that is where people begin to regret, and really, think about what is going on in their lives, at least, one would hope. It’s full of things that distract us from the big picture, the larger things in life that really do matter. Instead of focusing on the tiny details that get lost in the mix. Unfortunately. it’s the tiny details , hundreds of them, thousands of them, times infinity that snowball, to make up what we call the big picture.
Hundreds of seconds of moments in time that we either run through aimlessly with no real direction, but just trying to move forward, as if somehow we will have another glorious moment- that *one* we are looking for…the pot at the end of the rainbow. And, in all reality, once that one moment is gone, there is no taking it back, there is no rewind button in this thing called life, and we can only hope that we have used most of our moments wisely, and with thought and sometimes deliberation, to form our paths, to lay the stones that will rest under our feet as we walk.
The art of free flow writing, to drop your pen onto a piece of stark white paper , allowing it so glide across, forming letters and words and sentences, and maybe it’s not even legible, but, if you stare at it long enough, you begin to see the dance that ensued. The dance between your mind and your hand, the pen and the paper. It’s hardly a dance I’d be willing to abandon, not even if my fingers do seem to guide themselves as they tap around the keyboard. Sometimes my words come fast, and furious, those are the times I wish for an old fashioned typewriter, so that the rhythmic tones of the keys penetrate the air…other times, I am stuck looking at a blank screen, with nothing to say. You can’t doodle with a keyboard, and sometimes starting the process is much like cranking up an old engine using the action of the pen, the turning of the gears, to get it started.
I miss writing. I miss poetry and prose and real life meanderings on the paper. I hope to regain that again, but… without the chaos in my mind.
I am 38 years old this year. I have lived a full life. One of hope, joy and happiness. I have also lived lives that only one can dream of- of fury and rage and hopelessness. I am a survivor of many things, and first being the demons in my mind. I am creating happy art these days, full of hope and faith and love.

The Hats of Mental Illness – 11/3/2013

At this years NAMI Walk in Phoenix, there was a hat contest. Many people wore fun hats, silly hats, themed hats, and regular hats, and I’m going to share my favorites with you today.

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The Recovery Gnomes.

“Our son is schizoaffective. We moved to AZ from NC to take care of him. After a year and a half, he was able to move out and live on his own again. He’s 26 now.”

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The Recovery Gnomes.

The Recovery Gnomes are on Facebook!

DSC_0191They used to soak hats in mercury to make them stiff. Being exposed that way made the hatters go “mad.” Hence, the Mad Hatter.

DSC_0201This participant oversees behavioral health through Maricopa County [AZ]. He’s a licensed consultant and has been doing this since 1999.

DSC_0263Krysta works in Peer Support. She has Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety.

DSC_0291[L] is an RN student who has a female family member with anxiety & depression.
[M] “I’m a nursing student.”
~Are you planning on going into mental health?~
“No, I want to work with babies!”
~Do you have friends or family with mental illness?~
“My mother and sister.”
~What illnesses do they have?~
“Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia.”
[R] Laura has depression, and is “1/2 a nurse.”

DSC_0330“One of the sponsors is my neighbor. I think there shouldn’t be stigma [around mental illness].”

Mental Illness has many faces. Get help. Help a loved one. Stop the stigma, and spread knowledge.

(All photos taken by Rory.)

The Face of Mental Illness – 10/27/2013

Photo: ~ Rory

Photo: ~ Rory

(L) Karl; No mental illness
(R) Sam; PTSD (non-military)
To Sam:
~”Do you mind if I ask, are you gay?”~
“No.”
~Do you have anything to say to people who think being gay is a mental illness?~
“That’s CRAP!”
~Thank you.~
“Remember – that’s CRAP!”

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Photo submitted via TheFaceofMentalIllness@gmail.com

Photo submitted via TheFaceofMentalIllness@gmail.com

Hi, I’m Sada. I’m 32, and I live with anxiety, mild OCD, and PTSD from childhood molestation. I’ve joked with friends for years that “being an adult” is a big cosmic put-on, and we’re all just pretending…but when I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack or a flashback, it’s not so much of a joke. In the moment, it’s my truth. I’m 9 years old and all I want is my teddy bear…and I’m terrified that someone is going to figure it out: I’m not the mature, calm, decisive adult they see. I’m a scared little girl. I am the face of mental illness.

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Photo by ~Rory

Photo by ~Rory Picture taken at 2013 Phoenix NAMIWalk

(R) I’m here supporting all the people. I had an ex in the early 80s with mental illness. I’ve been involved with NAMI for 25 years.

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Image submitted via TheFaceofMentalIllness@gmail.com

Image submitted via TheFaceofMentalIllness@gmail.com

Hi! My name is Karin. I was just diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder a couple months ago. I have struggled with self harm since age 11 and other mental health problems my whole life, and I’m so thankful that I’m finally getting treatment. I’ve started antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, and they are helping out a lot. I’m in college to be a teacher, and I’m the president of our school’s Secular Student Alliance. I love my community and my friends, and I’m so thankful that I’m finally getting healthy so I can be the support they need.

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Photo: ~Rory taken at Phoenix NAMIWalk 2013

Photo: ~Rory taken at Phoenix NAMIWalk 2013

Jon (L) Paranoid Schizophrenia
Mother, Lane (R) “I work for Breaking Stigma with Faith programs. I don’t have mental illness, but my son has Paranoid Schizophrenia. I’m a deacon of the Episcopal church.”

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Image submitted via TheFaceofMentalIllness@gmail.com

Image submitted via TheFaceofMentalIllness@gmail.com

My name is Nicole, I am a 43-year-old mother of 3. I have suffered from an eating disorder and PTSD since I was 8 years old, depression since age 12, general anxiety, social anxiety, and insomnia, I am recovered from self harm, and within the past 2 years have been diagnosed with bipolar type cyclothymic, and borderline personality disorder.  Her diagnosis led to the discovery of my own. I have gastroparesis as a result of starvation from anorexia.

My youngest child, Erinn, was diagnosed at age 5 with severe, debilitating OCD, then at age 6 with bipolar disorder. Erinn began hoarding at one-and-a-half-years-old. She would go into her room and empty her bookshelf onto her bed, put all her animals and toys on her bed, and the pile on the bed would grow, she would continue to add to it anything she picked up during the day. By 2-2.5 she was fully engulfed in OCD symptoms. Doctors refused to diagnose or treat her until age 5. Once the OCD was dealt with, Erinn was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, and finally at age 6, Erinn was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The typical tell for childhood bipolar is the level of rage and aggression they exhibit. Erinn would experience 4-hour violent rage episodes 4-5 times per day, every day, for 2 years. She threatened to kill me, kill her brother, tear us apart, etc. I had multiple trips to the emergency room for injuries sustained from her. [Erinn has a service dog named Blue.] Blue smells the chemical shift in Erinn’s brain and alerts me before Erinn has an episode, so now I have a few minutes to prepare myself and my son for her rage. Blue positions herself between Erinn and whoever she is attacking and prevents Erinn from hurting us. Blue can retrieve a cell phone and bring it to me so I can call for help. Blue can retrieve Erinn’s emergency medications. Blue is trained on time so Erinn gets her meds at the right times. In short, Blue saved our lives.

If you could make everyone understand one thing about you/your child what would it be?
That she is a warrior and does not need pity. She is delightful and funny and sweet. She lives with a mental illness, but she shouldn’t be treated any differently than if she had diabetes or cancer.

Blue. Image submitted via TheFaceofMentalIllness@gmail.com

Blue. Image submitted via TheFaceofMentalIllness@gmail.com

The Face of Mental Illness – 10/20/2013

292NW

Photo by ~Rory

Kayla Downs is Miss Arizona International 2013. She advocates for mental health awareness. She has Depression and Anxiety. She blogs here.

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Photo by ~Rory

Photo by ~Rory, Phoenix, AZ

“I have Schizophrenia and Manic Bipolar.”
~How long have you known that you have mental illness?~
“Probably since 14 or 15.”

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Photo by ~Rory

Photo by ~Rory From the 2013 NAMI ValleyWalk in Phoenix, AZ

(Left) Frank has Schizoaffective Disorder and Depression. (Right) Laura has Paranoid Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, and Multi-personality Disorder.

Photo by ~Rory

Photo by ~Rory From the 2013 NAMI ValleyWalk in Phoenix, AZ

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Image by ~Rory @2013 NAMI ValleyWalk

Image by ~Rory @2013 NAMI ValleyWalk Phoenix, AZ

Volunteers
“This is an amazing cause, the stigma is bologna.”
(Right) “I’ve got family who are affected.”
(Middle) “Everybody is affected by mental illness.”

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Image submitted through thefaceofmentalillness@gmail.com

Image submitted through email.

“My name is Jenny, I am diagnosed borderline, I have bipolar traits, anxiety, psychosis, and un-diagnosed PTSD. I have a very destructive side of me which I am working on slowly with therapy. I had to give up my career 7 years ago as I am so unbalanced and my episodes took over everything. I now run a page Missy Borderline [NSFW] which, to be honest, is my life support. The page helps people to relate and talk about mental illness, fighting the mental health stigma, out and proud. ♥♥♥”

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Image submitted through thefaceofmentalillness@gmail.com

Image submitted through thefaceofmentalillness@gmail.com

“My name is Aubrey Ellen Shomo. I have a 174 IQ and have been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder. I’ve been detained and medicated against my will in the United States, simply due to stigma. Because of that stigma, I never received any meaningful due process, nor intervention against familial abuse. For eight years, as a child, this reality endured. When I grew up, I founded a network company and have spoken at national conferences, served on nonprofit boards of directors, and will shortly be addressing the UN Human Rights Committee. Stigma, not my mental illness, caused the great suffering of my life, and only by overcoming that stigma has any hope of full and free participation in my society been possible. It’s time for the world to start to see people with mental illness as people first, and to stop blaming us for social ills. Just because someone has a mental illness doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to them.”

Aubrey’s Manifesto can be found here.

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If you are a Face of Mental Illness, and you want to share your image, visit our submissions page!

The Face of Mental Illness – 10/13/2013

The faces of mental illness for 10/12/2013:
dak903

“While at Star Wars Celebration VI, I discovered the power of wookiee hugs when my friend and wookiee handler threw me in with three of our friends in their wookiee costumes. I had been having panic attacks all day and felt horrible, but I managed to smile for the camera. When I was in position, my friend yelled “WOOKIEE HUGS” and I felt my friends wrap their arms around me and I felt safe and happy. It turned my day upside down.”

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“Hi, I’m Heather. I’ve been dealing with OCD all my life. It has gotten better over the years with age, but only because I try to control it. I’ve stopped checking my kids 3 times in the night to see if they’re breathing and I’ve stopped checking every single closet, under beds, behind doors over and over, at night, etc,  but I still count obsessively, I still do things in the exact order everyday with a sense of doom if I don’t, touch objects over and over, and many other things that anyone with OCD will already know. In fact, I just read this paragraph over and over and I will have to physically stop myself, in order to send it off.”

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dianeandwhiskers

“I’m 60 years old and married, living in Canada, but originally from the USA. I had my first panic attack at work in Feb. of 1984 because I vomited there. In my world, I did not vomit anywhere other than my own home or at my Mom’s. Every time I drove near the entrance to where I worked, I would feel nauseous and shaky and scared. One thing led to another and I finally quit my job. Found out right away that I had agoraphobia. Went through pdocs and meds for a long time. Did a lot of talking to one pdoc and then later on to one therapist. I’m on Lexapro l5 mg. a day and it has helped me quite a bit. Also take Ativan 1 mg. 4 times a day, but going to cut back soon. I had many jobs, good jobs, but either had to leave them or got fired from them because of ag, anxiety, PA’s, PTSD, etc. As of last Oct. I had a sudden turn around and I was able to go shopping, to the pharmacy, get a haircut and go to the dentist by MYSELF. Long story why this happened. I still go out, but usually with my husband because he’s retired. I have health problems too. One GI doc told me I had IBS w/constipation, which is not true. My present and GOOD GI doc told me I have bad bacteria in my intestines and he’s trying to help me because he also believes I do not really have IBS. I have arthritis all over and OA of the neck and back. I lost weight for no reason at all and when I got down to 75 lbs. from around 100-110 (5 ft. tall) I really got scared. Had all kinds of tests done, but showed everything was alright including my thyroid. I am finally gaining some weight back because I was told to eat everything. Okay. I don’t want to make this a novel. But I do want to tell you that there is hope when it comes to having these mental disorders. I always hated drugs, but I have to say now that they probably are the only things that got me through any of this. Thanks for letting me share.”
Sincerely,
Diane

If you would like to share your face of mental illness, please email us at thefaceofmentalillness@gmail.com or mail us something the old fashioned way at:
P.O. Box 11391
Prescott, AZ 86301
USA

The Face of Mental Illness – 10/06/2013

The Faces of Mental Illness for 10/06/2013:

"I'm Amy.  I live with with bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, and panic attacks. "

“I’m Amy. I live with with bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, and panic attacks. ”

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Oak is Rory's twin brother, and lives in OKC.

Oak is Rory’s twin brother, and lives in OKC.

“Hi, my name is Oak, and I am a Chocoholic. More importantly, I live with PTSD and Elevated Anxiety. I love manga, video games, working, and being active in the community. Days like the one shown here are rare. Days with no worries. But they exist. And for me, they are worth waiting for, and are cherished. Nothing special happened the day of this picture, and that’s exactly why I love it. Normally I feel the need to have a reason to be happy. This day I was *just* happy.
So I keep my chin up (Cause that’s what my doctor says), I take my meds, and I live each day knowing I do my best, and love everything I do. I give myself as many reasons to be happy with my life as possible. And ya’know, it helps… Mostly.”
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“My family was happy at one time. But, she didn’t know what was real. He didn’t know he mattered. We thought we were normal. Education matters. End the stigma. We are the faces of mental illness.”
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Dakster Panic Attack
“While having a panic attack one night, I wondered what I looked like. I picked up my phone and took this selfie. If I could call it something, I’d call it “The face of panic” or “The face of strength” because I got through it.”
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"Pic of one of the roses in front of my house this spring."

“Pic of one of the roses in front of my house this spring.”

“I have been affected by mental illness through family members, friends, and an ex-boyfriend.  I would like to share with you my story of that ex-boyfriend. I have  PTSD because of his abuse. He was not a nice man to begin with. He was 31, I was 19. He was married, but separated. He had a son that lived with the ex’s mother, as the boy’s biological mother took off shortly after he was born. I knew going into the relationship that he had been verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive towards his wife. I told him that I could put up with a lot; just don’t ever hit me, because it will be over. Being young and naïve, I thought, “Oh, he’ll never be abusive towards me.” Boy was I wrong!

He claimed to have multiple personality disorder (MPD). He was also quite delusional about his place in the Universe. He thought his own personal higher power was “God”, and it was either his way or the highway.

He talked me into moving from Arizona to Washington State, where we ended up in a sort of commune/”ranch”. It was not pleasant. By “ranch”, I mean a 5 acre plot of land in the forest on the Reservation North of Seattle, with several run down trailers, a work shop, and the majority of the land going to the horses (as it should). It was primitive. We were on water haul, and there was an outhouse. None of the trailers had heat or running water.

He had put my cat in a box and his cat and her kittens in a separate box. I fell asleep and neither he nor his friend (who we drove with) checked on them until the California / Oregon border. They were dead. He killed my cat. That bastard!

He had stopped drinking when we first got together because I had asked him to. It was at the ranch when he started drinking heavily again. His MPD started showing more and more.

He got us kicked off the ranch, and we moved in with some of his friends. He then brought his wife to live with us.

When he got us kicked out of that house, we managed to get to Oregon, where things got a lot worse. We got kicked out of the first motel we lived in because of the two dogs. We then got a much smaller and pet friendly motel room, and were there for quite a while. This is the hotel room where his wife and I got into a fist fight. It’s also where he choked me until I blacked out. I came to with his wife resuscitating me. He talked us out of going to the hospital. That’s when I knew I had to start planning to leave.

We eventually moved into a little rental house. That house turned out to be a bad idea. It was right next door to the local drug dealer’s house. It turns out my ex-boyfriend was not only an alcoholic, but also a drug addict. He could not hold a job and was home all the time. His wife and I both worked at a restaurant as waitresses. To make ends meet, and so he could get a fix or a drink, he would sometimes make his wife and I sell things out of our storage locker. It was mostly my stuff. I lost some family antiques, and other high ticket items because of his manipulation, abuse, and my inexperience. This, of course, made his actions more abusive and erratic.

Here’s what happened the day I left.

One day, I was home sick. I had some sort of stomach flu or food poisoning. He and his wife were home, too. He was already drunk and high and it was only about 10:00 AM. I was in bed moaning in pain. From the living room, he accused me of having sex in the bathroom at work with the guys at work. (Ew. Gross.) Said if I really loved him, I would come out to the living room. So I did, after making a pit stop to throw up, once again, in the bathroom. He called me a “bitch, cunt, slut, and whore” to my face. I don’t know what I was thinking; maybe that it would snap him out of it, but I open hand slapped him (not hard) across the face. He said, “Bitch, I’m going to kill you!” He came after me and started beating the daylights out of me. I won’t go into the gory details. His wife pulled him off of me three times; twice in the living room, once on the gravel driveway before I got in my car and drove away.

I drove across town to a grocery store parking lot and cried for two hours, and asked myself, “What am I going to do?” I literally had nowhere to go. He had done the old abusers trick of taking me away from my friends and family. I had to leave and I knew it, but I was terrified to go. It’s sick how Stockholm syndrome works. I had one place I could go… to work.

I worked for a really great family owned restaurant. The owners were “retired”. They expected us to do a good job, and treated us well when we did. I trusted them. I had run out of the house without my shoes and my face was beginning to bruise by the time I got to the restaurant, which was about 2:00 PM. I decided to go in the back door, just in case some of the “little old ladies” were in the dining room that day. I walked through the back door. The cook (a woman) took one look at me and dropped a skillet. I said I needed to see the boss. She ran out of that kitchen like it was on fire! The boss came running in the kitchen door followed by his son-in-law, the cop. I was still uncontrollably tearing. I said, “Can I make a phone call?” The boss said, “Of course” and ushered me into his office. He said I didn’t have to worry about calling collect, but I did anyhow. His son-in-law asked if he could sit with me while I made the phone calls. I said yes.

I called my parent’s house and thank goodness my Dad answered. My parents didn’t like the ex-boyfriend and my Mom and I had a falling out over it. I really didn’t want to hear “I told you so” at that moment. The first words out of my mouth were, “He hit me” followed by a rampage of tears and emotions. Dad, the calmest man in the world, said, “I can be there Wednesday”, which was 3 days away. He and Mom got it all set up with a friend of Mom’s that lived in a town a few miles away, that I could go stay with her. That night I was so tired, that one of the other waitresses and her husband, one of the cooks, let me sleep on their couch.

The next day, they went with me to the house to pick up some clothes and toiletries, and to protect me. They were there to protect me. The ex-boyfriend had refused to leave the house. He pouted the entire time we were there. All his wife said to me was, “Don’t make it hard for me at work”, we worked at the same place. I thought that was heartless.

The next day, I had to work. I hadn‘t seen my Mom’s friend yet, and had thought I would see her at her house later that evening. She showed up with another one of my Mom’s friends to “have lunch”. They asked not to sit in my section on purpose. As it was, I fell apart when I saw them. I had known both of these wonderful ladies since I was 13. They were like bonus Aunts to me. I had one of the other girls check on my tables for a few minutes, while I went and sat with them. They just wanted to get a look at me and let me know they were there for me. By this time, my face looked like it had been through a heavyweight boxing match. They tried not to show how concerned they were, but I could tell. That night, I got the best sleep I had in about two and a half years.

A couple days later Dad showed up. He rented a U-haul trailer and I called the house and told them they had both better not be there while I packed up. My Dad is a non-violent person, but he would have done some damage to the ex-boyfriend had he been there. We got (almost) everything of mine packed and loaded. We took my dog to the animal shelter. I wasn’t going to leave her there, and Mom said I couldn’t bring her home. That really sucked. Then, we were off on the road.

It’s been over 20 years since that abuse filled, drug and alcohol fueled, delusional attack. It changed me. I have been living with PTSD and flashbacks since then. They don’t come around often anymore, but they can still pop up. I hadn’t had one in about 10 years. The last one I had, I gave myself. I was washing the back of my shoulders in the shower, and I suddenly felt like I was being strangled again. All of the fear and negative feelings rushed back. I then found myself laughing out loud and thinking, “Wow! What a silly girl, giving yourself a PTSD episode.” I think that’s the best reaction ever. Of course, I had to deal with the lingering effects for about a week.

I’m glad I was super brave in that moment and left. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I know if I would have gone back, he would have killed me. Maybe not that day, but it would have happened sooner or later.

I am no longer afraid he’s going to come and find me. I am following my dreams and career goals. I have a wonderful husband, a great dog, a fabulous cat, the love of my family, and the support of my friends. My life is full. My life is good.

If someone you love is verbally, emotionally, mentally, or especially physically abusing you, please leave for your own safety. Go to a shelter, to the police, a trusted friend, or your boss. Ask for help. It’s a very hard decision to make, but it’s one that will save your life. I know you can do it.”

If you would like to share why you are the face of mental illness, please email us at thefaceofmentalillness@gmail.com or mail us something the old fashioned way at:
P.O. Box 11391
Prescott, AZ 86301
USA

Look Forward to Sunday’s Post

Moxie

Hi! I’m Moxie, the new mascot for The Face of Mental Illness.

Our goal is to share the photos and images that we receive of The Faces of Mental Illness on a weekly basis. We have gotten quite a number of submissions so far, and for that, we thank you! We plan to try to share about five per week, so if you submitted something and don’t see it this first week, please be patient.

We will start our weekly updates this coming Sunday. We hope you will join us for the first Faces that will be shared!