End The Stigma Workshop: Bringing Change To Mind About Mental Illness

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“It was the best event our club has ever put on,” said Colleen Fossett the day after the End the Stigma Against Mental Illness Workshop.  Colleen, co-founder of the MHWTC, was not the only one who walked away from this powerful night changed; a night where not a single eye stayed dry or a single heart wasn’t moved.

 

Over 80 people came to the workshop held in Rode’s Barn to support this year’s cause of eradicating the stigma and discrimination against mental illness.  This particular event was designed to raise awareness, increase compassion, spark dialogue, and further educate the public about mental health issues. The dynamic, informative, and emotional night was filled with personal stories as well as opportunities for Q and A with a panel of local experts. With the help of banners, signs and literature from Bring Change 2 Mind, one of the club’s fundraising recipients, the mood was set and the workshop began.

 

Lydia DelRosso stood under a banner that read “Do You Know What Inspires People With Mental Illness To Get Treatment? YOU!,” and kicked off the evening with a powerful introduction to the importance of this year’s cause. She talked about a time years ago when a certain illness was whispered about and hidden in shame.  A time when no one discussed their disease and put off seeking treatment.  A time when breast cancer was a taboo subject, scarcely spoken about in a public forum. It was not, Lydia emphasized, a topic that was discussed in the mainstream until Betty Ford went public with her own fight against Breast Cancer.

 

You can see how far we’ve come.

 

Now, the MHWTC joins the crusade to break down the barriers of stigma, silence, prejudice and discrimination surrounding mental illness. The End the Stigma Workshop was the first step in our journey together as a club of over 600 women with strong bodies, strong minds, and STRONG VOICES.

 

Those voices were heard that night.

 

Four exceptionally courageous women stood up and shared their stories, most for the very first time in a public forum.  Some speaking their words for the very first time ever.

 

Colleen moved us all with her personal story of being an 11-year-old girl suffering from a very severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and how with her mother’s love, a competent therapist, and her undeniable strength and perseverance, she made it through treatment successfully.

 

Andrea shared her very relatable story of going through a series of Major Depressive Episodes starting in adolescence.  She talked about how she never understood what was “wrong” with her, until in adulthood she finally received an accurate diagnosis and could get the proper, long-overdue treatment.

 

Kristine’s story was heart-wrenching, poignant and uplifting as she told her history of being a young girl raised by a mother who suffered from Schizophrenia.  The audience practically held their breath listening to what it was like living on the inside of a life that we so often don’t understand or have misconceptions about.

 

Kate ended the evening by bravely sharing a heart-wrenching story of her father’s depression and suicide only a few years ago.  Through tears that we all cried along side of her, she turned this story of tragedy into encouragement, understanding and awareness to try to help others who may find themselves in a similar position. She gave a plea to us all: To “speak up” and ask questions if we think something isn’t right with someone we love. She went on to say “I believe silence helps perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide. People do not want to talk about these topics because they are uncomfortable, but we need to. We need to so that we can learn, discover, heal, cope, and survive.”

 

We would like to thank our panel of experts who were there to share their knowledge, answer audience questions, and provide personal consultation to those after the event:

 

Dr. Karen Saporito is a licensed Clinical Psychologist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey providing consultative evaluations and treatment for children and adults.  You may contact her with further questions at karensaporito@me.com

 

Jackie Williams works as the coordinator for the Gloucester Regional Addictive Substances Prevention (GRASP) Coalition, a substance abuse prevention initiative of The Southwest Council, Inc.

 

Sarah Seabrook-deJong is a Nurse Practitioner in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing with 20 years of experience working in various settings and age ranges.  She currently works as the Administrative Director for Behavioral Health at Inspira Health Network- Bridgeton Division. She is also a Psychiatric Consultant at the Center for Family Guidance.

 

Bridget DeFiccio is a licensed Professional Counselor with over 25 years of clinical experience. She has specialized in child and adult trauma and abuse survivors. Currently she works as the Director of the Danellie Outpatient Center of Robins Nest.

 

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Change a mind about mental illness and change a life. 

This event did just that. 

If you would like to learn more about eradicating the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness, please visit www.BringChange2Mind.org.

Missed the event?  Check in with our blog to read the personal stories that were shared at the workshop along with other member stories about how mental illness has touched their lives.

If I have any regret in my life, it’s that I didn’t get a diagnosis for my depression and anxiety until I was about 30 years old.  For years, I lived only a fraction of my life.  My deep depressions rendered me completely incapacitated at times and impacted not only me, but my family.  My anxiety kept me from  connecting with people, making friends and having meaningful relationships.   I only wish that awareness,  help and support had been available to me earlier.

The first time I had a severe “depressive episode” was when I was 18.  It was as if someone flipped a switch in me and I just couldn’t get out of my own way.   I was chronically tired.  When I was awake I had an insatiable appetite and couldn’t stop eating.  As a result, I gained a lot of weight.  My mother took me to our family doctor who ran some blood tests.  The results came back normal.  When my mom asked the doctor what could be wrong with me, he replied, “Well, Andrea is a little on the heavy side.  Maybe if she lost a little weight she wouldn’t be so tired.”   Wow!   Back in 1989 the doctor didn’t even think about depression as potential diagnosis when all the symptoms where right there!  Sadly, it wasn’t even part of the conversation.

Over the next twelve years I had the same experience a number of times.   The switch would get flipped and the sadness, fatigue, insatiable appetite and subsequent weight gain would follow.  It was so frustrating that this kept happening to me but I had no explanation why.  That was until it happened again in 2002.  I fell into such a deep depression that I was barely able to function.   My husband physically had to pull me out of bed in the morning to get me to go to work.  I would go days without showering.  All I wanted to do was eat, sleep and cry.  I knew this wasn’t right.  My job was suffering and my family was falling apart.   I needed to do something.  So I went to my family doctor and she diagnosed me with depression and prescribed medication.   That was a bittersweet day.  Finally I had an explanation for what had been happening to me all my life and a way to fix the problem.   But I now had a label. Depression. I felt broken and inferior.  I was embarrassed when I went to pick up my prescription.  I didn’t want anyone to know about my diagnosis.

It took a long time for me to reach a point where I accepted the fact that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance and I had nothing to be embarrassed about.  Years later someone put it into perspective for me. They asked me if I would be embarrassed if I had diabetes.   When I said no, they reminded me that depression is no different; my body isn’t doing what it’s supposed to and simply needs medication to help.   Viewing it from that perspective has helped me accept who I am and let go of the label and the shroud of embarrassment. 

I would love to say that my experience with anxiety has been a one-time event – this is what happened and why I felt that way, what I did to fix it, and now it’s all better. It’s never easy to talk about anxiety, but at least there would be a start and a finish with a lesson in between. For me, it’s been more of an ongoing issue. I’ve had anxiety in different contexts through my adult life – sometimes not at all and at other times more marked. At times, it’s been in relation to a stressful life event – my father’s death six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, an accident that injured one of my girls, even the birth of each new baby in our family brought challenges. At other times, I have started to feel anxious and have no idea what could be causing it. It’s a sense of not feeling safe – that something bad could happen.

As I’ve read about anxiety and talked to others through the years, it has helped in many ways. First, to realize that I’m not the only one who experiences it. We all live with anxiety to some degree. And, let’s face it, some anxiety is good and necessary in life. If you ran headlong into everything you could hurt yourself or get into trouble. The question is how to have a measured response – some caution or reasoning without avoiding the activity altogether. Some people can do this easily. For others, like myself, the feelings of anxiety can try to take over to where you don’t want to experience them at all. You can then begin to retreat from things that trigger those emotions. That leads to the second thing I’ve learned about anxiety in my life – If I just do the thing that I’m anxious about, the feelings of anxiety lessen over time. For example, when I first started doing triathlons I had a lot of fear with swimming in the open water. I did not swim growing up and learned at age 26. It just wasn’t in my comfort zone to swim in a lake where I couldn’t touch the bottom or grab on to the side. Over the years though, as I have done this more and more, it’s gotten easier. I would not say I have no fear at all, but it’s much more manageable. Third, I’ve learned that as hard as it is to have anxiety in my life, it’s good for me. It keeps me humble and relying on my faith in God, not myself. Having a weakness like that also develops empathy in me for others and their issues – whether they are similar to mine or not.

I would say that the challenge in life is not avoiding our weaknesses, or pretending they don’t exist, but accepting them, and living a full and satisfying life in spite of them. Each experience is valuable – the positive and the negative – for growth and for helping others. One of my favorite Bible verses sums it up this way in 2 Corinthians 12:9 where Paul writes: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”.

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Hi, I’m Christy Casimiro. This is my second year with MHWTC. Last year I was named “Most Determined” member of the club, and I think most people would agree that I’m one of the most enthusiastic people on the planet (hopefully, not in an annoying way). I also think that most people would be surprised to discover that I have battled anxiety and depression for much of my adult life.

Happy, healthy, safe and secure. That’s one of my mantras. Songs from The Sound of the Music; they comfort me too. By all accounts, I have a blessed life. Husband who adores me, three beautiful (young, wild) children and passion for one of the healthiest pursuits there is: triathlon.

When my first child was born, four years ago, I was convinced, CONVINCED, there were baby-nappers out there, plotting to kipnap her from me. ALL the time. It was exhausting. I couldn’t enter my house without first checking every closet/bathroom/under all the beds, etc for intruders waiting to pry my bundle of joy from my arms. I had my husband put extra locks on every door. I insisted on getting an alarm system installed. I put up “beware of dog” signs all around my house – alerting people of our oh-so-NOT-ferocious black lab. I could not sleep. I lay in bed at night thinking about all the windows and doors in our house, and sure that baby-nappers were on their way to get her. It was, to be frank, hell. I was suffering from anxiety and post-partum depression and didn’t even know it.

I used the mantras I mentioned above. I tried to talk to my friends and my husband. But mostly, I suffered in silence because I was afraid of sounding crazy. I had wanted a baby so badly, for so long, that it didn’t occur to me I could have post-partum depression. And I’d been treated for anxiety before, years ago, but my husband and I didn’t recognize the symptoms this time because we were a *tad* sleep deprived.

It wasn’t until our second child was born, less than two years later, that I realized what I was feeling was not, in fact, normal. And I sought help. Talking to my doctor, and anti-depressive medicine, have done wonders for me.

I can’t remember the last time I checked under a bed for a baby-napper! Thank god! I do, however, get awfully anxious about cars. My fears and anxieties are so powerful that I can’t even type them out.

Happy, healthy, safe and secure. Happy, healthy, safe and secure. Doe, ray, me, fa, sew, la, tea, doe!!!!

Currently, my depression is mostly under control, most days… My hormones have definitely taken a beating, having three babies in less than four years. So I TRY to be kind to myself. When I find myself slipping into a funk…I evaluate my thoughts, and talk to a few close friends and my husband. I do everything in my power to feel better. For me, that means eating healthy, NOT junking out on six candy bars after lunch, getting at least 8 hours sleep a night, and working out at least 4-5 times a week. Those are the things I CAN control, and I CAN do for myself to make myself feel as good as possible.

So I try. I try to appreciate each day for what it is, and to muster through the harder moments knowing that they will pass. Some days are harder than others. Some days are easier.

I hope that by sharing part of my story with you, if you too have battled, or are battling anxiety or depression, you don’t feel so alone. I can’t believe I’m sharing this with all of you. Now please excuse me while I go hide in a closet. ;-) Doe, ray, me, fa, sew, la, tea, doe!!!!