Living with schizophrenia, I’ve run through the full gamut of symptoms; from delusions to paranoia, to hallucinations to side effects. I’ve written about these extensively, but one thing I don’t often write about is my depression which, at times, is just as prevalent as any of my other symptoms.
Depression can be a killer all by itself but, when combined with anxiety and paranoia, it can throw my whole world off its axis. Sometimes I can feel it coming; the middle of summer, as my birthday approaches, and in the midst of winter, when it’s cold and gray. There’s something about these two times of year that speak to the bleak passing of time that everyone experiences. When it gets cold, when the snow starts to fall in the quiet, my mind starts to wander into thoughts about the futility of life’s daily struggles. The grey skies match the shade of the hole that’s been in my chest for years, and I let myself ruminate on the things that bother me instead of forsaking them for a sunnier, more productive mood.
There are also internal factors that can contribute to my depression.
I’m worried about money.
I got rejected by a girl.
Somebody said something to me — I felt attacked.
Work’s piling up.
I try my best not to let the thoughts and insecurities of these situations get the best of me, which may or may not be to my detriment, but work, money, love, and social connections all require taking chances, and all carry with them the potential to get hurt. That hurt can turn, very easily, into depression.
For me, depression comes on subtly — like an auditory hallucination may start: with a whisper. I start to feel a bit of ennui, a French word meaning, “general malaise.” I’m bored or something didn’t work out and I frustrated. This can go on for a while — a month or two — until the ennui surrounds me and I feel worse with every passing day. I begin comparing my accomplishments to the achievements of others (this is a major reason why I don’t use Facebook or other social media). I feel like I don’t perform socially in “the right way.” The weather changes and, before I know it, the ennui has morphed into full-on depression.
For me, depression feels like getting hit by a truck. I am tired all the time, I struggle to function in public because my insecurities are getting the best of me and I feel worthless. I have the distinct notion that nobody cares about me, that they never will, and that I wouldn’t be missed if I killed myself or just died naturally. I struggle to tell anyone about these feelings because I don’t want people to worry. I also seem to get the feedback that there is an inherent misunderstanding about depression among many people, that when I do sometimes give voice to those feelings, some people respond in a way that equates depression with just having “a blue day.” This is not the case at all. Depression tends to get minimized, which stigmatizes the illness and negates the deep and real suffering of those impacted. I didn’t have much depression before my illness, but I can remember a distinct periods where I struggled with school and social life in high school and middle school. I didn’t have a name for those feelings then so I just lived with them.
Depression feels different for each of the 350 million people worldwide who are caught in its talons. Sometimes I’ll think about what it would be like if I killed myself. Twice in my life, I’ve scared myself with a clear plan to end my life. When that happens, I know it’s serious, and it’s time to seek serious help. Part of taking responsibility for my wellness is noticing that ennui and not letting it go un-checked. Here is what works for me:
I talk to someone about how I’m feeling; a family member, or a friend; someone who knows the program, (i.e., someone who doesn’t buy into the myth that depression = being down), and is non-judgmental. Sometimes talking helps, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always important to try. Following that, I always go to my therapist or my psychiatrist and, together, we figure out a way to get out of the funk. Sometimes it’s taking a break from work and responsibilities, sometimes it’s antidepressants, and sometimes it’s a prescription for healthier activities like walking or taking a nature hike.
I also try to restructure my responsibilities, as much as I can, so they take less of a toll on my daily mental health. I talk to my bosses about needing some leeway or a break, or I develop an adjusted routine that works with how I’m feeling at that time.
Finally, I treat myself well. I take care of myself with the steps I’ve learned to take it easy like taking showers, getting enough sleep and eating good food, all these things put a little joy back into life and, combined with a program of medication, talking, and prevention, I usually am able to maintain a sort of homeostasis. But there is another, more intangible facet of self-care, and that is how we treat ourselves in our minds and in our hearts. I still struggle with compassion for myself. I am way too hard on myself over things that really shouldn’t matter, and I know that. I try to be kind to myself; I tell myself that I don’t have to be perfect. Accepting yourself as you are is a major stepping stone on the way to finding comfort and peace. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
Everyone has depressive periods at some point in their lives, and that there are strategies and supports out there that can help you get through those episodes. Therapy is beneficial, meds are helpful, and treating yourself well is essential. I wish everybody knew that self-care measures are perfectly acceptable and that seeking help when you need it doesn’t make you weak or “less than.” We all fall into a funk every now and again and we can all take steps necessary to lift ourselves up. The most important thing to know is: you are not the only one who feels this way. Even if you feel like complete, worthless trash, just know that, at the same moment you’re experiencing that thought; millions of people all over the world understand. We could all do with a reminder that we’re not alone. Depression is brutal, but you don’t have to suffer; and you certainly don’t have to suffer alone.
EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
Watch/read/listen as Mike Veny, Robert “Cozmo” Consulmagno, Stephanie Sikora, and Danielle Hark describe their turning points, those moments when life shifted towards a healthy future with mental illness.
These can link you to longer features that give a bit more depth to each person’s story.
So, if you need a little boost during your day, connect with us for messages of hope and inspiration. OC87 Recovery Diaries. Stories of mental health, empowerment, and change. Stories about people, not diagnoses. Your story.
I am old enough to remember a time before social media. In fact, media in the house in which I grew up consisted of:
– a daily newspaper
– a radio in the kitchen (mostly music)
– a remote-less television that featured three main networks, some secondary channels (for watching reruns of Bewitched and Gilligan’s Island) and PBS.
I called friends from a rotary (!) telephone that was wired and mounted to kitchen wall, and I wrote letters on actual paper to friends and relatives who lived far away.
My life was easily compartmentalized — school life, neighborhood life, family life — and rarely did they intersect. In fact, it was a bit disconcerting when they did. For example, it was always strange to bump into a teacher in the supermarket — it mixed up my idea of who that person was; where they belonged. Of course, part of me understood that all teachers (even mine) went to the supermarket; I just didn’t need to witness it firsthand. When my worlds collided in unpredictable ways, it was unsettling.
Social media has mixed that all up. And, honestly, I struggle with it.
I am drawn to social media like a fly to honey. I use it to promote my work, I love finding out news about my dozens of relatives who live all over the country, and I am often inspired by the creativity displayed by friends and strangers — especially, these days, in the realm of political criticism and satire. Plus, I’m a documentary filmmaker who loves to observe and consider human nature. Every tweet, post or picture reveals something about the sharer, perhaps in ways he/she didn’t intend. It’s fascinating stuff.
However, I really have to work at controlling my impulse to check Facebook or Instagram (the two platforms that I understand. I’m the opposite of an early adaptor, if you know what I mean) so I don’t get sucked into a social media vacuum, emerging minutes (hours!?!) later without any understanding of how much time has passed. And, if I’m honest with myself, I don’t always feel great about myself after spending time on Facebook. Although I try not to, I often feel jealous of that perfect vacation, that beautiful meal, that stunning achievement. My New Year’s resolution was to limit the use of social media, and I do find that a conscious effort to do so has positively affected my demeanor.
That said, I worry about my kids, and am conscious that a new important parenting responsibility is to help them use social media safely and wisely. I have two children — a teenager and a pre-teen, and I see how they are growing up with technology and its byproducts as a constant in their lives. A recent report by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK has come out with some bracing news about the effect that social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have on young people’s mental health.
Their study, #StatusofMind, surveyed almost 1,500 young people aged fourteen to twenty-four on how certain social media platforms impact health and well-being issues such as anxiety, depression, self-identity and body image. All demonstrated negative affects overall on young people’s mental health. The researchers concluded that Instagram is the most detrimental social networking app for young people’s mental health, followed closely by Snapchat. But the conclusions aren’t black-and-white: whatever is? While Instagram negatively impacted body image, sleep patterns and added to a sense of “FOMO” — Fear of Missing Out — the image app was also a positive outlet for self-expression and self-identity for many of its young users. The good news is that YouTube was found to have the most positive impact on the young.
So, what do we do with this information?
I agree with Sir Simon Wessely, President of the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, who supports an education-based approach to social media and who also warns that demonizing social media is not the answer:
“I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives,” he said. “We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media — good and bad — to prepare them for an increasingly digitized world. There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message.”
In that light, we are offering new “social media friendly” versions of some of our OC87 Recovery Diaries videos in hopes of brightening up what can often feel like a gloomy space.
EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
I broke down on a cold December evening and rested my head on the window.
I didn’t know how unclean I’d become, until I watched the world fill with snow.
My parents always did everything they could for me. It was the seventies. There was hardly any psychiatric medication to speak of then, cognitive therapy was barely emerging and, in general, the information on mental illness was not there to discuss, if you wanted to. I first felt it when I was about eight years old. Depression. When I was sad, I got comfort from my stuffed animals. I wasn’t their king. I wasn’t their leader. I was their peer. Whole stories were told in a small Wisconsin house in a single evening. And although I liked to be alone often, to make up my own world, I had many close friends. Aside from getting beaten up occasionally in middle school, most of my childhood was happy and without trauma. (more…)
In this episode, Bud and Laura have a lively, wide-ranging discussion with Philadelphia artists, Abby Squire and Rosie Carlson about how art and mental health affect one another. Abby and Rosie discuss their process in making art and how this intersects with their mental health.
EPISODE 2 – Art & Mental Health: Can They Co-Exist, or Must They Compete?
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Rosie is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Her passions include graphic design, painting, and a love of studying women’s historical roles within fermented beverages in early modern Europe. She says, “It’s only recently that I’ve admitted to myself that I need art; that I need to be making it. Valuing my art has allowed me to tackle anxiety and depression like never before because I’ve come to value myself.” Rosie’s website is rosemarycarlsondesign.com.
Abby has been living in the city for the past three years and is continually inspired by all of the creative people who call Philadelphia home. As a teaching artist with The Claymobile, a mobile arts initiative serving low-income students, she has had the opportunity to work within diverse communities throughout the region and share artmaking with students who don’t have access to art programs in the public schools. When not at work, she devotes her time to her own creative pursuits; reading her favorite authors, and exploring every corner of the city on her bicycle. Abby currently resides in her West Philadelphia home with her Golden/Pit Bull, Eloise.
Laura and Bud pose challenging questions to their guests, such as, what is more important, mental health or art, and are the two mutually exclusive? The guests and hosts explore these and other questions while investigating how to incorporate self-care into making art. Struggle is an inherent component of any creative endeavor, just as struggle with issues like anxiety and depression is part-and-parcel of living with mental illness. The hosts and guests offer candid and revealing insights into the intense, rewarding, and challenging life lead by artists, as well as individuals coping with mental health challenges.
RELATED: Mental Health > Art an essay by Laura Farrell
The language of film is well-suited to explore the journeys of the mind. I have been so very lucky to work with men and women who agree about the potential of this kind of storytelling; who are also invested in sharing journeys of recovery that inform and inspire. My colleagues have enthusiastically embarked with me to tap into the extremely vulnerable, but ultimately triumphant, adventure of translating these stories for the screen.
My personal history with the powerful combination of mental health and film started with OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie, a feature film that I directed with Bud Clayman and Scott Johnston. OC87 is a moving, insightful, and often funny film that tells the story of Bud Clayman’s own mental health recovery journey, in which filmmaking plays a significant role. We learn about Bud’s personal history as well as his hopes to pursue a career in filmmaking. Throughout the film, everyday activities are depicted that, for Bud, (and for many others, in fact) can be quite challenging — riding a bus, walking down the street, or ordering at a restaurant. Sound design, slow motion, and other cinematic techniques are employed to recreate Bud’s lived experience for viewers. It was a risky undertaking, but it worked. Audience members strongly identified with Bud’s heroic internal struggle as he battled the everyday. “You gave my story the red carpet treatment,” said one beaming viewer to me after a screening. At that moment, I was moved to continue using my skills as a filmmaker to give more people’s stories the “red carpet treatment.”
Bud Clayman & Glenn Holsten during the filming of OC87
OC87 screenings around the country were followed by Q&A’s, where men and women would get up and share their own inspiring journeys of recovery. Each was a moving and valuable contribution to the understanding of mental health struggle, and most were filled with hope for positive and fulfilling lives. We wanted to find a home for these stories, and OC87 Recovery Diaries, the website, was born.
I am incredibly fortunate to be able to create short documentaries for the website that are inspired by the tradition started with the feature film OC87. For the past few years, Bud Clayman and I have directed stories that bring to light the lived experiences of recovery from mental illness, and show how people who live with mental health challenges create paths to meaningful lives. The rewards of crafting and sharing these short films are immense, and I’m very happy to share the news that a new, one-hour special for public television has been created, and will begin to be shared with public television stations this month. On May 18th at 10:00pm, viewers in the WHYY (Philadelphia) area can watch the film on WHYY TV 12. A wider PBS distribution will occur in October.
OC87 Recovery Diaries is a film about people, not diagnoses. The film is a collection of beautifully told short stories that inspire and empower, stories that generate discussion and awareness in an effort to dismantle stigma — all told by people moving through their own recovery journeys.
Here is a promo for the film that presents our players and their stories.
Video portraits include:
Stephanie Sikora, who uses equine therapy to help with her bipolar disorder and Asperger’s syndrome. Working with horses helps her control anger, frustration, and anxiety. Her trust in horses has allowed her to trust people.
Robert “Cozmo” Consulmagno, aka “Crazy Cozmo,” is a Marine Corps. veteran who lives with PTSD and bipolar disorder. Extreme physical exercise is his way of coping with the challenges of the trauma he experienced as a child at the hands of an abusive stepfather.
Mike Veny attempted suicide at age ten. He was expelled from three schools for behavior problems and was hospitalized repeatedly for psychiatric issues as a child. Today, he is an outspoken mental health advocate and drummer who is searching for a definition of healthy masculinity as he deals with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and anxiety. Watch Mike Veny do the (near) impossible: interview his depression.
Sheri Heller is a powerful trauma survivor who now helps others who have experienced trauma. This short animated film artfully details her journey with a mother who had schizophrenia. Sifting through the wreckage of her childhood, she uses her creativity to help her channel the hurt and the pain. As a therapist, Sheri looks for beauty in the ugliness of the world and helps others to heal.
The staff members at Montgomery County Emergency Service (MCES), a psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania, rush through busy, stressful days helping people in mental health crisis. But do they ever have time to look at one another? In 2014, they stepped way out of their comfort zones to slow down, and learn, and grow by rehearsing, producing, and performing Thornton Wilder’s timeless play, Our Town as a benefit for their patients, and themselves.
Hyacinth King traveled from private school to private hell as she wrestled with the toxic combination of schizophrenia, drug abuse, and homelessness. Eighteen years ago, she discovered Project HOME, and her life as an advocate for those who have experienced homelessness began.
Monica Rose, a young transwoman, talks about her experience with mental health challenges, homelessness, and finding her chosen family at The Attic Youth Center in Philadelphia.
Danielle Hark is a passionate mental health advocate and wellness warrior. She created the website Broken Light Collective to bring together images from photographers all over the world who live with mental health challenges. Although Danielle wrestles with many of her own mental health issues, she is also a stunning photographer who explores our delicate world with her camera.
On a personal note, I am indebted to all the wonderful people who help us craft these videos, including talented producers, directors of photography, assistant directors, sound recordists, editors, composers, animators, graphic designers, production assistants. The quality of the work reflects the respect the creative team has for the storytellers. Everyone who is touched by these stories is affected by these stories.
We will continue to promote screenings of the one-hour film throughout the year on this site and our various social media platforms. I hope you enjoy meeting these men and women as much as I have. Their brave and passionate journeys of recovery continue to inspire me, long after the filming and editing is over.
Those in the WHYY viewing area can watch the one-hour film live on Thursday, May 18 at 10:00pm or via Apple TV, Roku, or On Demand via the Local Tab on your PBS On Demand section.
For those outside the WHYY viewing area, stay tuned for updates on other screenings!