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

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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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The Chain Reaction Continues: Meghan Trainor Opens Up About Her Mental Health

It's the most confusing, frustrating thing ever

I love Meghan Trainor’s music. With empowering lyrics, her pop songs are upbeat, happy, and make me want to sing and dance. I’ve always pictured her that way too — bubbly, energetic, and confident. Maybe that’s why I was surprised when I heard her talk about her struggle with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.

But hold on… why would that surprise me?

As a mental health advocate and someone who has recovered from panic disorder, I know darn well it doesn’t matter what the person looks like on the outside, he or she can still have problems on the inside.

People have said to me, “How can you possibly have anxiety when you’re so calm all the time? It doesn’t make sense.” I shrug and think, I don’t know. I can’t help it. 

That’s the thing. You never know.

I saw Meghan Trainor on NBC’s Today. She said the person who helped her “figure out” her anxiety was Today anchor, Carson Daly. A few months ago, Carson talked about living with anxiety.

At times I feel like there's a saber-tooth tiger

“He’ll never know how much his video helped me and my family. I told them that’s how I feel, I just couldn’t explain it,” Meghan said. “I went up to him (Carson) and I was like, ‘You don’t know what you’ve done for me, but it was amazing.'”

That reminded me of a post I wrote earlier this year, An Awe-Inspiring Chain Reaction. NBA All-Star DeMar DeRozan tweeted about his depression. That encouraged another NBA All-Star player, Kevin Love, to open up about his panic attacks. Which helped Carson Daly talk about his lifelong struggle with anxiety.

It was a chain reaction that gained momentum from the honesty and openness of each man.

And now, Meghan. She said when she was experiencing panic attacks, she assumed no one else felt that way. I used to assume that too.

I didn’t think anyone else in the world could possibly understand what I was going through. It didn’t cross my mind that others experienced the same scary panic symptoms. So I kept quiet and hid my fears. It was the worst feeling to be embarrassed and ashamed of something I couldn’t control.

One of the first steps in my recovery was when my doctor told me millions of other people have panic attacks. That shocked me. It was powerful to know I wasn’t alone.

We can’t underestimate the impact others can have on us. Hearing another person explain their challenges can be a turning point. It can clarify how we feel. And more importantly, it can help us realize we are not alone.

We must continue to speak openly about mental health. Don’t stop the conversation.

Keep the chain reaction going.

Green and Yellow Photo Quotes Fall Twitter Post

What Kate Spade’s Death Reminds Me

mental illness doesn't discriminate

(Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line in the U.S. at 741741)

I’m a huge fan of well-known designer Kate Spade. I’m fortunate that my husband loves to buy me purses for my birthday and Christmas. He does a great job finding just the right one (with a little guidance from our daughters). The last three handbags he gave me? All Kate Spade.

When I heard the news this week that she had died by suicide, I was stunned and saddened. To be perfectly honest, I was shocked. This famous, highly successful, 55-year-old woman seemed to have it all.

But that’s the thing — it doesn’t matter.

Kate Spade’s death illuminated the fact that no amount of wealth, power, fame, or love can declare someone immune from mental illness. ANYONE can be affected.

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Kate’s husband, Andy Spade, said his wife suffered from anxiety and depression for years, and that she was seeking medical help.

He said, “We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy. There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn’t her. There were personal demons she was battling.”

The depth of sadness, depression, and despair can devastate anyone.

It touched the life of my friend’s brother. It touched the life of a boy my daughter went to school with. It touched the life of a friend of my dad. And it touched Kate Spade. And countless others.

My heart breaks for them and their families.

Now, every day when I reach for my black leather Kate Spade handbag, I don’t see just a pretty purse. I glance at the small, gold logo that reads kate spade New York, with a tiny gold spade above her name, and remember that life is precious.

Her logo also reminds me that:

  • Mental illness can affect anyone.
  • Mental illness is a real medical illness that needs treatment, just like a physical illness does.
  • Stigma is beginning to lessen, but it’s still much too strong.
  • Shame can keep people from reaching out for medical help.
  • You should not be ashamed for having a mental illness.
  • It isn’t anyone’s fault for having a mental illness.
  • It’s important to advocate for mental health awareness.
  • It’s crucial to keep the conversation open.
  • There is hope.
  • You are NOT alone.

Kate Spade left a legacy of her work and designs. I pray for her husband, her 13-year-old daughter, and her family. You also, are not alone. Image result for images of kate spade's quote

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When Stigma Kept Me Quiet

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I’m grateful now for something I didn’t think was possible years ago, when I was first diagnosed with panic disorder and agoraphobia — People are talking about mental illness.

Stigma is still strong, but it’s beginning to lessen. The conversation is open. Nearly every day, I hear someone speak out. Often there are news stories focused on mental health. Actors, singers, athletes, and famous people publicly share their stories.

People are acknowledging that mental illness is a real medical illness that should not be ignored.

Schools are starting to offer courses in mental health. Teens are learning about mental illness through programs such as Ending the Silence, developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Thousands of mental health organizations around the world have resources available to help those affected.

Things have definitely changed since I was a young girl, when I experienced confusing and frightening symptoms, which I kept secret. I knew my problem wasn’t normal and didn’t think anyone would ever understand. I didn’t dare speak up, in fear of being ridiculed.

It took me twenty years of suffering before I received medical help.

I’m not the only one who has waited so long. NAMI says that people who have a mental health condition typically wait eight to ten years after the first warning signs appear to get help. The main reason?

Stigma.

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Most of the time, I was fine. I graduated from college, got married, and had two baby girls. But by my early 30s, my panic attacks became more frequent and more severe.

I was angry with myself because I couldn’t stop the symptoms. My internal monologue wasn’t very kind:

This is stupid. I worry too much. No one else feels this way.

What’s wrong with me? 

Maybe it shouldn’t bother me when my heart beats too fast, and I get lightheaded and dizzy. It’s just how I am. So what if I feel sweaty and shaky, and start to black out? I need to be tougher when I think I’m going to faint. I have to calm down when I feel like running out of the place where I’m panicking.

Who does that? Get over it.

It’s the dumbest thing ever that I don’t want to drive because I’m scared of feeling panicky. People get annoyed when they’re stuck in traffic, but their hearts don’t pound and they don’t need to pull over to get hold of themselves.

And when I feel disoriented? That’s the worst. It’s like I’m living in a dream and things aren’t real, like an out of body experience. That’s creepy. I can’t let myself think that way. This is absolutely ridiculous. I’m so weird.

I should be able to stop it. Just STOP it.

No matter what I do, I can’t let anyone know. They’ll think I’m strange. I doubt a doctor would know how to help. Maybe I have a brain tumor. I don’t want to scare my family.

Whatever. I’m fine…

Usually.

When I look back on how I used to talk to myself, it makes me sad. I was sick and needed help.

Growing up, I’d never heard anyone talk about mental illness. I had no idea my symptoms actually had a name: panic attacks, panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder. I couldn’t believe it when my doctor told me that millions of other people suffer from it too.

And all that time, I thought I was alone.

HARVESTING SINCE 1892

I was shocked when my doctor said that medication could help me. I was even more amazed when the antidepressant worked.

When my daughter Talee was 10 years old, she started to show signs of panic attacks. It broke my heart to know that she had to deal with the same terrifying symptoms that I’d had.

Even though I’d been through it myself and knew that many people had anxiety, I still felt the stigma. I didn’t want Talee’s teacher or the other parents to know my daughter had a mental health issue. I didn’t want her labeled.

But I was NOT going to let my sweet girl suffer in silence and secrecy, as I’d had. I pushed the stigma aside with all my might, and reached out for medical help right away.

Thankfully, both Talee and I have recovered. And now, I speak out to reassure people that there is help available and they are not alone.

The conversation must continue. The more that people talk about mental health and mental illness, the less taboo it will be for future generations. Let’s end the stigma.

There is hope.

#CureStigma

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My Post Featured on the NAMI National Blog: Celebrities and Mental Illness

In the NBA, you have

I’m super excited that one of my stories is being featured today on the NAMI National Blog. It’s about an incredible chain reaction that happened in March, between two NBA All Star players — DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love — and “Today Show” anchor and host of “The Voice,” Carson Daly.

Please have a look by clicking here.

Have a wonderful weekend! And Happy Mother’s Day!

Take care,

Jenny