This past week I was asked to speak on mental health at a candlelight vigil for someone lost far too soon to suicide.
This is what I shared.
Depression is a liar.
I’ve never considered suicide. Not because I thought there was hope or that things would get better. No, when I was at my lowest point and the depression had taken over, my inherent fear of dying is what kept me alive. But that’s the thing about depression. It engulfs you until all that’s left are negative emotions. It replaces hope with despair, happiness with emptiness, and love with loneliness. Because depression is a liar. It will poke and prod until you can no longer see the good things about yourself or the world, and, without help, it will continue to eat away at you until there is nothing left but darkness.
And postpartum depression is the cruelest of them all. The same body, your body, that created a beautiful being, that brought new life into this world, it can turn on you in an instant. You’ve spent your whole life learning to accept and trust yourself, and now what? Your very being is telling you that you’re not enough. But, depression is a cold-hearted liar.
Suicide prevention stresses us to “look for the signs.” And then, we inevitably blame ourselves when we didn’t know, when we couldn’t save them. The thing is, the signs, the withdrawal or acting out, or recklessness, those are valid, but they’re also more often seen in teenagers. See, as adults, we’ve become so adept at masking our emotions, at building up our defenses, our walls, that even those closest to us, especially those closest to us, we make certain that they don’t see anything at all. We’re trained to spare others our pain.
So, how can we fight against the darkness? And trust me, for those of us who suffer everyday, it is an ongoing fight for survival. But has a battle ever been won with just one? No. The battle against depression cannot be won solely within. Because depression has already convinced us that we will never win. But, depression is a liar.
You don’t have to raise your hand, you certainly can if you want. How many people here have had feelings of immense emptiness? How many mothers have been engulfed in worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy? How many of us have thought, even for a moment, that maybe it would be easier to just not exist at all?
At 28 years old, I had been fighting all my life against the darkness, and I was so, so tired. It wasn’t until my therapist pulled me out of its depths that I felt like I could continue the fight, that I started to hope and dream and do again. I am certain I could not have gotten through that time without help. Looking back, depression took a lot from me. And I often wonder what could have been different had I gotten help sooner. But honestly, I didn’t know. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to feel the way I did. I thought it was something I had to live with, and far too often, so do those who can no longer endure the fight.
If I had heard me here today, back then, just maybe, I would’ve reached out for help before 28. We’ve come a long way in normalizing mental health, but, if today tells us anything, it's that we haven’t made it far enough. We still have work to do.
So, I implore you. Talk to each other. Be vulnerable. Ask for help. Reach out to your strong friends. And, be bold in your conversations about mental health.
You are so, so very not alone.
- Chelsea Borruano
Written by Lara Ashley
Racism is the oppression that is killing the Black community mentally and physically.
The Black community is dealing with two viruses: COVID-19 and racism. Both are killing us. Black people have reportedly been dying at a rapidly higher rate with COVID-19, with 75% of the frontline workers being people of color. A frontline worker, a Black EMT, was killed in her home while resting from working tirelessly caring for the ones who contracted the virus.
The community was shocked over her death. We tried to cope with it, as well as trying to deal with the looming disease in our hometowns. We listened to experts and health officials who reported that while quarantining, it would be best for our mental and physical health to exercise and jog outside. A simple jog became a fearful act for the Black community, feeling that they would be targeted and shot in their own neighborhoods. Soon, any everyday action became a fearful one, not even feeling safe stopping at the store. Even that could lead to death at the police officer's knee, while the other officers watch you die in the street with cameras in your face.
An organization called the ADAA has done studies on how racism affects mental health. In ADAA’s racism studies, they have found that Black people suffer from anxiety, depression, psychological distress, and trauma distress from seeing and experiencing racism. Because of this racial trauma, people of the Black community struggle with fear, hypervigilance, confusion, shame, or guilt following the experience, blaming themselves for the person projecting racism towards them.
Racial trauma can be triggered by the cumulative effects of experiences of racism or by one specific experience. Hashtags like #imtired, #whatsnext, and #stopkillingus on social media platforms have indicated this, with people expressing their reactions to killings and mistreatments of Black people. Another way racial trauma comes into effect is through the transmission of historical context across generations. Black people have heard the stories of their grandparents fighting in wars that they were forced into, and they have seen pictures of their parents, uncles, and aunts marching during the Civil Rights Movement. For the Black community of today, they are thinking, "When is it enough?".
Chelsea Walton, Psy.D says that the senseless murder of George Floyd spurred a call for change in a system that allows disproportionate and unjustified violence against Black people.
It is a never-ending cycle that too many community members have experienced and have to cope with on a day-to-day basis. A Black mother posted on Facebook, "I sometimes can't handle my emotions and have to protect my mental health, but over the last few days, I've found myself fighting back the tears and not trying to become angry." Dr. Walton said that the effects of racism are insidious when they are not overt. She comments, “Those who have an awareness of this, it can create feelings of lack of control and agency.” She continues to say that there's a mental and emotional exhaustion of constantly being aware of the environment one lives in, which is necessary for survival. “Racism has deleterious effects on the mental health of Black people. It’s important to highlight that despite challenges, the Black community faces systemic and systematic racism, we continue to see the resilience needed to change the status quo,” she says.
Black people are struggling with finding their ability to influence the environment. The Black community has been told to "get in line" with society's expectations (like having a legal gun and announcing to the officer that it is in our possession), to show respect (similarly to the Black woman who called police to help a dispute in her neighborhood and Yvette Smith being the one shot at by police.) and to value the ones who are here to protect us (Gilbert Flores raised his hands in surrender to police and remained motionless as the officers shot and killed him.). If we comply, then incidents like these will not happen. However, we see countless and countless times again that this alone will not stop the killings. If a white man can kill nine Black people in a church and come out of it wearing a bulletproof police vest, Black people should be able to breathe again.
Racism requires many moments of metanoia; we bring forth a new worldview on the issue. The protests and social media posts are all ways for the Black community's concerns and fears to be heard. It is not about changing anyone's mind; Black people's bodies and minds have burned from the trauma of racist people. We understand that no matter how many marks are left on our bodies, some people's ideals will never change. Right now, we want our criminal justice to change, and we want justice to be served.
Thankfully, the You Are Not Alone Project has dedicated its time and resources to provide a haven for individuals to discuss their mental health openly. Numerous therapists conduct virtual therapy sessions to help Black people cope with their reality. These resources are here to help cope with what is present in today’s society. The real cure, though, is for the Black community to feel that they are valued in this world.
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In order to escape the Great Plague affecting Cambridge, Newton retreated in isolation to Woolsthorpe where he came up with his theories of gravity, optics and calculus.
After a wildfire, landscapes will explode with thousands of flowers known as a superbloom and come back even more beautiful and healthier than before.
Hurricane Sandy rid Long Island Bay of its polluted water--the constant surge of the tides dispersed toxins in the bay and returned the water cleanliness to levels not seen since the mid-1970s.
Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear,' 'Macbeth' and 'Antony and Cleopatra' as London reeled from an outbreak of the bubonic plague in 1606.
What a beautiful thought it is that things, and people, can come out of a state of devastation and isolation even stronger than before.
Covid-19 forced many of us into self-isolation. In this isolated state, emotions can be heightened, and mental health can be gravely affected. A recent review in Psychology Today on the effects of quarantine on individuals points to increased confusion, anger, post-traumatic stress symptoms, and extended periods of grief, sometimes lasting even three years after the end of the quarantine. Stressors range anywhere from longer quarantine duration, inadequate information and supplies, and infection fears, to frustration, boredom, grief, financial loss and stigma.
Of course, people with a history of mental illness are at increased risks, but no one is immune to the mental effects that isolation and fear can have during and after a pandemic. And, for some, those effects will last long after the virus is gone. In addition, health care workers and others on the frontlines are facing even more dangers to both their physical and mental health. These workers, especially, will need continued support after this is over.
Effects on Children
The good news for parents is that psychologists who work with childhood trauma agree that children are incredibly resilient. According to child psychologist Jessica Wozniak, we’re going to see a range of effects from this pandemic on children based heavily on family and community circumstances. Some will be mild and short-term such as trouble sleeping, increased worry or behavioral outbursts, while others may see more long-term effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is noted that there are factors that can decrease a child’s ability to withstand trauma. A child’s proximity to the event can be a factor. In this case, children are just as impacted as adults, but parents do have the ability to monitor their intake of news surrounding the pandemic and are encouraged to do so. The likelihood of long-term trauma also increases for children who are already in an unstable state. It will be more important than ever to make sure disadvantaged populations have adequate access to mental health care and ongoing support.
Wozniak stresses that children most often look to caregivers for how to react and cope with trauma. The more adjusted a caregiver is, the calmer children will be, especially as life starts to return to a sense of normalcy. As with adults, giving children some agency over the isolation and being away from friends by making sure they know they are helping others and contributing to the greater good can provide comfort and a sense of pride. That shared purpose can also bring a family even closer together and add value moving forward. It is also likely that we will continue to see small changes in this generation, such as being more reluctant to shake hands or leaning into technology even more. Only time will tell. What we do know is that we need to continue being compassionate and understanding with one another. We are all experiencing this together, after all, and no one has all the answers.
Shining a Light on Mental Health
On the bright side, mental health is being talked about more than ever before, and people are even more aware of the importance of taking care of their overall well-being. During the pandemic, self-care has been deemed a necessity for most, with many organizations sharing resources for taking care of one’s mental health, counselors switching to tele-health services and individuals sharing at home self-care routines. Crisis hotlines saw calls increase in the thousands during this time. We also saw people making an active effort to connect with each other through virtual game nights, Zoom happy hours, drive-by birthday “parades,” and through other innovative means.
As we go back to normal, it’s important to identify which parts of “normal” are worth going back to.
Where we go from here matters.
As we’ve seen throughout history, some of the world’s greatest creations came from a forced state of isolation, and regrowth is often healthier after a state of disruption. Jessica Carson, Neuroscientist and Psychologist, stresses the importance of using this situation as an opportunity to reallocate energy and find balance. Imagine dividing 12 units of energy across four areas, family, occupation, recreation and dreams (making dreams a reality). What did it look like before Coronavirus? What does it look like now? And, where do we want to go from here?
Written by Chelsea Borruano
written by: Becca Ames
we compare our pain as if there is only a certain amount in this world to be given. rank our suffering, use it to give or deny ourselves the permission to feel. there are people who are sick, dying, losing their jobs, people who never had them to begin with. people who are hungry. who are you to be experiencing anything but gratitude?
I am overwhelmed by my sadness, the strength to which my feelings can overtake me in a matter of seconds, dragging me to the depths of despair as I sit comfortably in an air-conditioned apartment with a fridge that is full and a fluffy little creature nestled at my toes. you are not worthy of sadness today, the voices say.
my disorder thrives in these lonely moments, feeding on the guilt and shame of asking for too much from a world that is - for all intents and purposes - tapped out. I berate myself for the messiness of my feelings, shave away the excess so I too can fit in the box of all that is ‘just right’.
I live in constant fear that the bigness of what is happening inside of me is wrong, that my taking of space will overwhelm the people I love and force them to disappear.
but there is something freeing in this quiet, a knowing emerging from its hiding place. I am confronted each day by a shadow that used to dance behind all that is life beyond this. I ran from its darkness, its silhouette stretching thin in my wake until disintegrating into nothing at all.
but now, the shadow stands just slightly taller than myself, cast from a light that is close by.
I am here, it seems to say, announcing my existence.
I am learning to be alone. and maybe it’s because I didn’t bring this upon myself that it feels lighter than it would in another time, a purposeful act of being alone that is not representative of an absence of love but perhaps even a surplus of it.
maybe I am not a mess. maybe I am just a person who feels deeply in a messy world. and maybe there are others who feel this way - completely and without hesitation, others who read what I write and feel the pressure release. others who feel the weight of this loneliness lifting.
maybe we’re not overreacting. maybe we’re not broken.
maybe we’re just paying attention.
I've been hesitant to write about what I've been dealing with these past couple weeks. Mostly because it's not exactly positive or uplifting. As the founder of the project, I know that people are looking to me to offer something, anything, during this time. I believe we've done a lot as an organization by sharing resources and hosting giveaways and virtual meetups, and I'm proud of that. But I also started this project with the intention of being bold in our conversations about mental health and that starts with me. That starts with honesty and vulnerability.
When I was 28, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). I've talked a lot about how that diagnosis, and subsequent treatment, has changed my life and brought me to where I am today. What I want, or rather need to talk about now is how incredibly triggering this pandemic has been for my GAD and MDD symptoms.
For the past three or so years, I've kept these issues in check. I've taken on a lot of what would be considered stressors and prevailed because of the tools I've learned along the way.
Let me tell you, those tools got nothin' on the coronavirus.
I have this pressure in my chest constantly that no breathing exercise seems to touch. My anxiety is affecting my ability to do my job and succeed in my master's program, in mental health counseling of all things. I'm starting to feel like some sort of poser. How can I help people as a counselor if I can't even help myself? When I got help all those years ago, I did it because I couldn't eat and I couldn't leave my house due to my depression. I've been having flashbacks of that time of extreme isolation and am finding myself being drawn to the safety of shutting out the world. A friend shared an article that could not have explained my fears any better--“On the one hand, I am concerned that this will not only exacerbate things for those who are already isolated and lonely, but also might be a triggering point for others to now get into habits of connecting less...(read more).”
I have been exploring ways to deal. One thing that seems to help me is looking at time differently. When I feel anxious about anything--work, this nonprofit, my classes, getting sick--I remind myself that time is relative right now. I actually have the full 24 hours to spread things out in a way that works best for my mental wellness. Right now, my mental health has to be more important than being hyper available from 8-5:30 Mon-Fri and basically anytime in between. I take a break when my anxiety gets bad and do something mindless, like watch a quick episode of a sitcom, and then I get back to whatever I'm working on. On the flipside, I seem to have more energy around 8 pm or so, so I use that time and energy to wrap up anything that my anxiety kept me from getting to during the day. I also spend time outside, drink tea, paint and call or facetime friends and family. Sometimes, I just wish I could disconnect from it all, but I also have to remind myself that the responsibilities are still there, and I can't hide from them because of my anxiety.
I know other people have it so much worse and I feel guilty for "complaining." I know "our grandparents went to war and all we have to do is stay home." I know that SO many people are sacrificing SO much for me and it physically hurts me that I will never be able to do anything to repay them. I hurt for people who have lost someone to this virus or who can't say their last goodbye to a dying loved one for fear of spreading the virus and who can't be at the funeral because that would be more than 10 people in a room. I just lost someone very close to me. I can't imagine not being with them when they were suffering and not having the chance to say goodbye. I know my issues are minuscule compared to other people. What I also know is that my anxiety and depression have never been rational. Facts and figures aren't going to ease the pressure in my chest or keep the tears from streaming down my face. One thing is for sure. I'm going to hug my family and friends so dang hard when this is all over (with their consent of course).
I know I'll be okay. Maybe not today. Maybe not for a couple of months. And that's okay.
Because I'm alive, and I may be isolated, but I AM NOT ALONE. You aren't alone. We're all in this together. Let's talk about it and just be there for each other.
Written by: Chelsea Borruano
Losing someone you love is hard. You sit at a table for a family gathering, for birthdays, holidays; and you all feel it. You realized that you’ve missed each other because life gets busy and that you love each other more deeply than you thought possible. You laugh because you enjoy each other’s company so much. But then you feel a pang of guilt for laughing instead of crying. You smile a little less. And look around and realize you’re not the only one.
And that’s when losing someone gets just a little bit easier. You feel everything more deeply, more permanently, that is if you try hard not to forget this feeling. You treasure the little moments with the people that you love. Every laugh. Every tear. You know, in that moment and for forever, you are so very not alone.
It's national suicide prevention week. As this project has evolved, I've gotten a lot of questions about losing someone to suicide. What are the signs? What could I have done differently? How do I get past the guilt? The short answer, I honestly don't know. The long answer, well, there are warning signs but they're usually minute, if they show outwardly at all. I believe it starts with being open and bold in our conversations about mental health, depression, suicide, self-harm, addiction, etc.
The guilt question is the hardest for me to address. I think, as human beings, we're wired for it; and someone you love taking their own life will leave you with more questions than answers. The more uncertainty we face, the easier it is to look inward and blame ourselves. All I can offer is this, depression is a disease and for some, it's a losing battle. You don't blame yourself for the person you love getting cancer so why do we think we can take on the weight of depression? The hope I have is that, while cancer is more or less in the hands of science and skilled medical professionals, mental health support isn't. We have resources, and they're growing everyday. We're having the right conversations. We're erasing stigmas. We're making medical advancements in treatment. And we're not doing it alone anymore.
So, to you, whoever you are, wherever you are, You Aren't Alone. We are better together and the world is a better place with YOU in it. Please don't take that away. Today, choose to stay.
For more information and resources, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
If you think someone is thinking about suicide, assume you are the only one who will reach out. Here’s how to talk to someone who may be struggling with their mental health.