Simone Biles: Her Own Champion Advocate

Like millions of others, I was shocked when Simone Biles pulled out of the Olympic team finals. My first reaction was WAIT… WHAT?? How can she do that? She’s the GOAT! I’ve never seen a gymnast stop competing, especially during the Olympics—unless they were physically injured.

WOAH. STOP. TIME OUT.

Simone’s issues were mental, not physical. Her mental block was REAL. Just because you can’t see it on the outside, like a broken bone or a bleeding cut, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Simone had the fortitude to know she must speak up and take herself out of the competition. She wasn’t in the right headspace. It wasn’t something she could simply snap out of. She didn’t trust her mind and body to work together to keep herself safe. As heartbreaking it would be to drop out, as much as she was aware she’d get backlash for doing so—she knew she had to.

She said that morning during practice she had a bit of the “twisties.” It sounds like a cute term, but it’s far from cute. The twisties is a phenomenon that happens when suddenly a gymnast is no longer able to do a twisting skill she’s done thousands of times before. Her body isn’t cooperating and her brain loses track of where she is in the air. This could lead to a devastating or life-threatening injury.

Simone was her own best advocate.

I read an article that said something similar happened to Simone in 2013. She was 16, competing in the U.S. Classic. She fell off the uneven bars. She missed all of her connections on the balance beam. She hurt her ankle during a floor routine. Before she could go through with her vault routine, her coach pulled her out of the competition.

This time it was Simone pulling herself out. She had the experience and awareness to know when to set boundaries to keep herself safe.

This type of self-awareness applies to all of us. It’s important to know when to ask for help, to advocate for ourselves. This could be if someone is depressed, experiencing high anxiety or panic attacks, or has thoughts of hurting themselves.

It’s not easy to open up—especially if it’s a problem with mental health. I know. It’s downright HARD. It took me twenty years to admit I had anxiety and panic attacks. I never wanted to talk about it, in fear of people thinking I was “crazy,” that I could just stop it, or that there was nothing “really” wrong with me.

Stigma is powerful.

I respect Simone for knowing when enough was enough. And by her doing so, it further opens the conversation of mental wellness and normalizing mental health conditions as equally important as physical ones.

Simone is the Greatest of All Time. She is a CHAMPION.

In more ways than one.

What I Noticed While Talking to Teens About Mental Illness

Teen Mental Health

Last week I spoke to teens about mental health, like I’ve done dozens of times before. But this time it felt different. This was my first set of presentations since early 2020, before COVID-19 lockdowns.

I’m a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I present NAMI’s Ending the Silence program to middle grade and high school students. My co-presenter and I talk about the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those signs in themselves or a friend. We speak openly about anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders, and suicide.

So last week, instead of being inside a classroom with students and their teacher, we talked to them via Zoom. The presentations went great and I was so thankful to have the opportunity to meet with them. Technology can be wonderful!

But there’s nothing like actually being there with the kids, looking them in the eye, feeling that emotional connection and energy.

On Zoom, some of the students preferred not to be seen. Their cameras were on, but instead of a bunch of faces, I saw ceilings, bedroom walls, or a silhouette of a person. But that’s fine, I get it. It’s high school.

Even if I couldn’t see them, I knew they were there, listening. When I give these presentations, I never know who needs to hear what I say that day.

Through my computer screen, I could sense the kids were stressed and frustrated. Most likely some of them were anxious and depressed. There’s no doubt that distance learning this past year has taken an immense toll on students (parents and teachers too, of course).

At the end of our presentation, my co-presenter and I open it up to questions. We let the kids know they can ask us anything at all. We’re open books. Sometimes there’s only silence. Which again, I totally get. Mental illness is hard to talk about. Kids don’t want to be thought of as different. They don’t want their peers to think they might be struggling with a mental health condition.

A question at the end of one of our sessions last week broke my heart. Through an anonymous direct message, a student asked: If someone is thinking of attempting suicide, but isn’t really planning to do it, does that person still need to get help?

Our answer: YES. Talk to a trusted adult. A parent, teacher, school counselor, family friend, adult-age sibling. Tell someone you trust so you can get the help you need.

Another student wrote: How do you get help without your parents knowing?

Our answer: It’s hard to do that for a minor. Talk to an adult you trust. If that person can’t help, go to another. And another. And another. Until you get the help you need.

I pray they’re getting help. It’s rewarding to know that at least we opened the conversation.

While the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to weaken, there’s still a long way to go. My hope is that with future generations, mental health conditions can be spoken about as easily as physical diseases.

Keep talking about it.

The goal is to end the silence.

We ALL Have Mental Health: Let’s Talk About It

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It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week and tomorrow, October 10, is World Mental Health Day.

So let’s talk about it!

Yesterday I had a wonderful opportunity to speak to a group of elementary, middle school, and high school counselors about mental illness. I’m a presenter for Ending the Silence, a mental health awareness program by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

An area we focused on is the importance of awareness not only among students, but parents and school staff as well. It takes a village. The mental health conversation must be open.

One of the middle school counselors told me something that at first, surprised me. She said the number of students she sees for social and emotional issues (anxiety, depression, etc.) FAR surpass those she counsels for academic reasons. Years ago, it was the exact opposite. And this is middle grade.

I suppose this really isn’t so surprising. It seems as if each generation is more stressed than the previous one. Millennials are known as the anxious generation. Gen Z (ages 15-21) has reported the worst mental health of any generation, according to the APA. Some of the reasons? Social media, gun violence, political climate, immigration, sexual harassment.

I’m passionate about spreading awareness to young people. The more that people talk about mental illness, the weaker the stigma is. The hope is that stigma will lessen with each future generation.

May is Mental Health Awareness month! Let’s all reduce the stigma of anxiety disorders! How? By talking about yours and not being scared to get or ask for help! We are so passionate about the subject that we have a FEARLESS collection of treasures that GiveBack to a local organization helping people with anxiety disorders!

Adolescents need to know they are not alone, that others feel the same pressures. That it’s okay to admit they’re not okay, and it’s absolutely fine (and healthy) to talk about it. They need to know there’s medical help available. The sooner they get help, the better.

When I speak to students during Ending the Silence, we discuss the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice the symptoms in themselves or a friend. We talk about anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, eating disorders, and suicide.

Suicide is the focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day. According to the World Health Organization:

Every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide.

The conversation on mental health and mental illness needs to be open. Talk about it. Share. Know that you are NOT alone. There is help available. There is hope.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Lifeline at (800)273-8255. Or text HOME to 741741.

Speak out. Together, we can end stigma.

Hope: A Reason to Persist

To me, this quote has many layers.

The first thing I think of is “Never Give Up.” If you hit a roadblock, find a way to get around it. My husband often reminds me to be persistent, not give up so easily. I don’t like to hear this (or admit I’m not trying hard enough), but he’s totally right. Whatever the issue may be, I find that when I keep moving, reaching farther than I thought I would or could, it usually turns out to be a rewarding experience. Not always. But if I push as hard as I can and exhaust all options, even if it doesn’t work out, I feel better about myself. Because I gave it my all. Persistence pays!

This quote also reminds me of my own mental health journey. When I was a young girl, I had terrifying symptoms I never told anyone about. I didn’t know how to describe them, and certainly didn’t think anyone would understand. I felt hopeless. I didn’t want people to think I was weird or different. So I kept it a secret. For twenty years!

When I finally went to a doctor for help, he told me I was having panic attacks. He diagnosed me with agoraphobia and panic disorder. This might sound strange, but my first reaction was happiness. Of course I didn’t want to have an anxiety disorder. But I was extremely relieved that the awful symptoms I’d had for so long actually had a name. Not only that, but others had this too… millions of people. And, there was treatment available. I could be helped. It was unbelievable!

I was filled to the brim with HOPE.

25 Inspiring Hope Quotes #Hope Quotes #Inspiring Quotes

This month is National Suicide Prevention Month. I’m thinking of friends who are struggling with depression. I’m remembering people in my community who have died by suicide. My friend’s brother. My daughter’s classmate from high school. My dad’s work colleague. I’m thinking of how hopeless they must have felt, being in the deepest, darkest place filled with total despair. I’m thinking of their families, who will never stop struggling to cope with the loss of their loved one.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, or any other mental illness, please know that there is medical help available. You are NOT alone. Reach out for help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

There is hope. There is always HOPE.

Pain is real but so it hope. Work to know all of what is real (true) and what is fake (false) in life.

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What I Would Tell My Younger Self About Mental Health

The Child Mind Institute has an awesome campaign that I love to follow. It’s promoted in May for Mental Health Awareness Month.

#MyYoungerSelf offers inspiring messages of hope. Celebrities, athletes, business people, and social influencers give short videos about their struggles, and what they would tell themselves as a child. They’re super open about their own journeys and stress that if you’re suffering from a mental illness, you are not alone. It’s okay.

Emma Stone speaks about her anxiety and panic disorder, Mayim Bialik talks about depression, Michael Phelps about ADHD, Barbara Corcoran about dyslexia, and so many more.

Today I watched a video from Alex Boniello, a Broadway actor, whose anxiety began in high school. He was in the cafeteria when he experienced such frightening symptoms, he thought he was having a heart attack. He had no idea it was anxiety and panic attacks.

This got me thinking… I totally relate to what Alex says. My panic attacks started around age 10. I didn’t know what was going on, why I had such frightening feelings. I was embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone. Now I know that stigma and shame kept me from saying anything. I finally got medical help in my early 30s for panic disorder.

That’s why I speak openly about mental health. I want to encourage people to talk about it, to reach out for help.

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So, what would I tell my younger self?

Jenny, I know you’re scared and worried there’s something really, really wrong with you. You’re exhausted from keeping it a secret. You think no one else in this entire world could possibly understand what you’re going through. But millions of other people do understand! Because they’re going through the same thing.

The symptoms are terrifying, but you won’t die from them. Those horrible physical sensations and strange thoughts, like you’re living in a fog or dream, actually have a name: Anxiety and panic attacks. Panic disorder. You are not imagining it. It’s a real illness.

And something else… there is treatment, you don’t have to do this alone. There’s no magic cure, it’s not going to simply go away. You’ll always have to manage it, but you’ll feel a ton better than you do now. The road to recovery isn’t easy, but you’re going to do great.

I know you’re nervous about your friends finding out and you don’t want them to think you’re weird or treat you differently. They won’t. Having panic disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. Millions and millions of people struggle with their mental health. Talk about it and get help — the sooner the better.

Don’t ever forget, you are NOT alone.

Courtesy of The Child Mind Institute

Spreading Mental Health Awareness: One Teen at a Time

some things take time

I wish I would’ve known about mental health conditions when I was a teenager. If I had, I may have told someone about my frightening and strange panic attack symptoms. I could’ve received medical help much earlier than I did.

But I was embarrassed and didn’t want to be different. To me, it wasn’t an option to tell anyone. I dealt with it in silence for 20 years.

That’s the main reason I’m so passionate about speaking to youth about mental health. I want them to know that it’s okay not to be okay. Mental illness doesn’t mean you’re weak. You shouldn’t feel ashamed. It isn’t anyone’s fault. There is help available. You are not alone.

I volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as a speaker for “Ending the Silence,” an in-school mental health awareness program. Yesterday I presented to about 70 high school seniors.

During the presentations, my co-presenter and I explain the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend. We talk openly about anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, bipolar, eating disorders, and suicide.

Yesterday I told the teens that when my doctor first diagnosed me with panic disorder and agoraphobia, I was actually happy. Not happy that I had it, but relieved that I finally knew what it was.

There’s an actual name for my terrifying symptoms!? Other people feel like this? (Yes, millions!) And there’s treatment for me? (YES!!)

It felt like I was validated. Those awful panic sensations I’d hidden for so long were REAL. I had a disorder in the brain and needed treatment. It wasn’t possible for me to “get over it” or “just calm down,”  phrases I often reprimanded myself with.

That was the first step in my recovery.

Have patience with yourself. No one is perfect!

When I present “Ending the Silence,” I keep in mind that I never know who I’m going to reach. But there are kids who need to be hearing what I have to say.

Yesterday after the presentation, several teens came up to my co-presenter and me. One student said her younger brother attempted suicide last year and she’s having a hard time with it. Another girl said her boyfriend gets panic attacks and she wants to know how to help him. She said his family doesn’t want to admit he has a mental health condition. The teens thanked us for listening and giving our input. Even though they still didn’t have a clear-cut path to fix their problems, they said it felt good to let it out and talk to someone who understands.

Which brings me back to the point… you never know what people are going through.

When I speak to the students and look out into the sea of faces, I often wonder what they’re thinking. And who I’m reaching that day. I’ll never really know.

But all I can do is keep trying.

End the Silence.

The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers - Buddha Doodles

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Locker Room Talk: Good for Your MENtal Health

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I just heard a great message in the men’s locker room.

No, no, I wasn’t actually in there. I watched a new webisode series on my computer, called “Locker Room Talk.” It’s hosted by National Basketball Association star Kevin Love. Sponsored by Schick Hydro, the purpose of the videos is to raise awareness and funds for men’s mental health.

The five-minute videos are geared toward men, but of course, women can watch too! I loved each interview. Kevin and his guests are open and honest about dealing with their mental health issues.

Earlier this year, Kevin Love wrote an essay, opening up about his struggles with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. There was an outpouring of support on social media, and countless others were inspired to also speak out.

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Kevin said, “People don’t talk about mental health enough. And men and boys are probably the farthest behind.”

Back to “Locker Room Talk”… The series has an initial trailer and three episodes. Kevin interviews Olympic gold-winning swimmer Michael Phelps, Kevin’s friend and teammate, Channing Frye, and basketball legend Paul Pierce, who played for the Boston Celtics.

First up, Michael Phelps:

Everybody's journey

Michael has suffered from depression and thoughts of suicide. He’s candid about his mental illness and admits he still struggles.

“I don’t ever want my medals to define who I am,” Michael says. “What I’m doing now — to have the chance to save a life — is better than ever winning a gold medal.”

Next is Channing Frye:

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Channing sat out the 2012-13 basketball season due to a heart diagnosis, an enlarged heart. He was able to return in 2013, but says he’s had severe anxiety about his condition, and his game.

Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness have been life-changers for Channing. He stresses the importance of talking about your problems. “Speaking your truth is liberating,” he said. “It’s okay to be vulnerable.”

And Paul Pierce:

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Paul was brutally stabbed outside a nightclub in 2000, which led to anxiety and depression. He says he doesn’t like to be in crowds anymore, and it’s really hard for him to go to the mall, movies, or amusement parks. He says his mental illness affects not only himself, but his family too.

These four men are an inspiration. Let’s continue the conversation on mental health. It doesn’t matter if you’re at home, work, or in the locker room — just keep talking.

It’s okay not to be okay.

You are not alone.

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Why Asking for Help Isn’t Easy: My Post on the NAMI National Blog

I’m excited that a piece I wrote for NAMI’s National Blog has been published! How stigma prevented me from receiving medical help for panic disorder. Please Click here to read.

***

(Note, this is not an excerpt)

Sometimes people ask how I was able to hide my panic attacks for 20 years. My first thought: I have no idea, I just did. I felt there was no other choice.

The reason, even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time?

Stigma.

Growing up, I felt different than the other kids. I was sure they’d never understand the frightening symptoms I experienced. I didn’t want my friends, or even my family, to know. I didn’t want them to worry and think I was strange.

Most of the time I was fine. So why talk about it? I can handle this on my own.

Years later, I realized I didn’t need to handle it by myself. More importantly, I shouldn’t have.

I didn’t know there was help available. I thought I was alone.

Now I speak out about mental illness because I don’t want others to feel like I did. I want people to know there is hope. You are not alone.

Click here to read my post on the NAMI website.

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Let’s Talk: World Mental Health Day

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I feel a bit rusty as I write this. I’ve been away from blogging, writing, and the regular routine for three weeks. Just a few days ago, my family and I returned home from our grand European adventure (it was incredible, more on that later).

Yesterday, while jet-lagged and bleary-eyed, I scrolled through my Instagram feed and saw a post from Miriam at Out an’ About. She mentioned World Mental Health Day.

Wait, what’s the date? Of course, tomorrow is October 10! How could I forget?

Miriam is in Australia and I’m in the western U.S., so my afternoon is her next day. I’m messed up with days, nights, and dates, from traveling. So thank you, Miriam, for the reminder!

I couldn’t let this day slip by without saying something about it. AND… this year’s theme focuses on young people and mental health.

I’m passionate about spreading mental health awareness, and in particular, to our youth. As a speaker for NAMI’s in-school program, “Ending the Silence,” I visit high schools and talk to students about mental health issues and what to do if they notice the symptoms in themselves or a friend.

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Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, but most cases are undetected and untreated (from the World Health Organization).

I can definitely relate to that fact.

I was about 10 when my panic attacks began. I didn’t have any idea what was wrong with me and never wanted to tell anyone. I didn’t want my friends or family to think I was weird, so I dealt with it as best I could, on my own. I kept my scary and strange symptoms a secret for 20 years before I got help.

I don’t want this to happen to other kids. That’s one reason I love presenting “Ending the Silence” to teens. Awareness and education are crucial.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. Adolescents need to know that it’s okay not to be okay. There is help available and there is hope.

This quote from NAMI is a great reminder to parents:

“Odds are, your children won’t go to a counselor when they feel something isn’t quite right. They’ll come to you. So please, stay open and believe them. Believing may save their lives.”

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While the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to lessen, it remains strong.

This morning I read an essay co-written by Lady Gaga and the Director-General at the World Health Organization. Here’s what they said about the reality of stigma:

“Yet despite the universality of the issue, we struggle to talk about it openly or to offer adequate care or resources. Within families and communities, we often remain silenced by a shame that tells us that those with mental illness are somehow less worthy or at fault for their own suffering.”

I’m grateful that there is a World Mental Health Day, recognized each year on October 10. Mental illness is a global issue. It does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you live, what nationality you are, if you’re rich or poor… we all can be affected by mental illness.

World Mental Health Day encourages people to speak out about mental health and mental illness. But the conversation can’t stop after today.

End the silence. End stigma. Let’s talk about it.

#WorldMentalHealthDay

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Teens and Suicide Prevention

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says each year, more than 41,000 people die by suicide.

teens in high school

Last week I went to a local high school to talk with students about mental health. I’m a presenter for NAMI’s in-school program, “Ending the Silence.”

My co-presenter and I spoke to two classes, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. When our first presentation ended, we noticed the teens looked almost stunned. During the question and answer period, no one wanted to say a word. It took some gentle nudging for them to ask us anything.

Then we thought about it… These were incoming freshmen, brand new to high school. Classes started two weeks before. They probably weren’t comfortable yet with their teacher, let alone their classmates.

And they’d just sat through an hour of us talking about a subject that isn’t usually spoken about so directly and openly.

It was a lot to take in.

The students heard about anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, ADHD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They learned the warning signs of mental illness, and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend.

We had a straightforward discussion about suicide and the warning signs:

  • Talking, writing, or drawing about death.
  • Talking about having no reason to live, being a burden to others, or not being here tomorrow.
  • Looking for ways to attempt suicide.
  • Feeling hopeless, desperate, or trapped.
  • Giving away possessions.
  • Behaving recklessly.

We let the teens know that these symptoms can be subtle. But if their gut instinct is telling them that something isn’t right, something may not be right. And it’s important to reach out for help.

Take the warning signs seriously, and take immediate action:

  • Tell an adult you trust.
  • Ask the question. Ask if the person needs help, if they are thinking of attempting suicide.
  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Call the National Suicide Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
  • Text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
  • Go to an emergency room or call 911.
  • Do not keep warning signs a secret.

Sometimes when I’m presenting “Ending the Silence,” especially when we’re on the topic of suicide, I think the kids seem so young to hear about it. But they must.

The National Institute of Mental Health says that for ages 10-14, suicide is the third leading cause of death. For ages 15-34, suicide is the second leading cause of death.

Mental illness can affect any one of us. At any time. Teens need to know there is help available and they are not alone.

When I speak to the students, I never know if a kid in that classroom, or maybe a family member or friend, is struggling with a mental health condition. I never know who I’m going to reach.

The more educated the younger generation is about mental illness, the greater the chance the stigma will lessen.

We must have this conversation. Let’s keep it going.

#SuicidePrevention #StigmaFree

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