My PSDit Joey

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Question

As someone who writes and speaks openly about serious mental health issues and my experience, I do get asked many questions. Some of the questions are constructive, like how to find help or support and other questions are asked about how I deal with mental illness. Occassionally, I get asked very personal questions, and I try my best to keep boundries. I understand that answering questions will lead to a better understanding about mental illness which will end the stigma.

Of the hundreds of questions I've been asked, one situation stands out that gave me clarity to how a lot of people view mental illness. I was away at a workshop where I had read my story and helped the audience learn the storytelling process. At the end of the day, after speaking with many people interested in mental health, a man came up to me as I was getting my things together to head back to the hotel. I assumed it was just someone saying that he liked the workshop or the piece I read. Instead, he came up and explained that he knew someone with a certain personality disorder and wanted know more about it. I had to answer honestly that I didn't know too much about personality disorders and didn't want to give him any false information. He asked if I knew any statistics about the personality disorder, and again, I said I didn't but there is a ton of great information online. What he said next was so surprising to me that I stood there speechless for at least a minute...

"Well, do you know like approximitly how many people with this disorder actually end up being successful in life? Like a percentage?"

Of course I didn't know a percentage about a disorder I wasn't familiar with, especially a percentage about a question I found offensive. I thought for a minute about how to put all my racing thoughts and responses into an answer that would make sense to someone who didn't understand the concept that I write about everyday: A person with mental illness is still a person, and a diagnosis doesn't determine who he or she is as an individual. I answered by saying, "I don't live my life based on statistics. Even with a mental illness, she still has the potential and ability to be who she wants in life. She can define her own meaning of success."

One of the most heartbreaking days of my life was when I had to withdraw from my senior year of college. I thought that made me a failure. Once I began writing, I realized that this is my future, and this will be my "success story." Mental illness may have changed my plan, but I believe I'm where I'm meant to be. Society may think that people with mental illness won't have a meaningful and happy life, but they are wrong. We don't have to live our lives with limitations. Work hard and never give up and prove to the world that you are stronger than mental illness. Dream big, always.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

The 8 most important lessons I learned as a 23-year-old

Last week, I celebrated my 24th birthday! I have spent a lot of time over the past few days reflecting on the past year. At this time last year, I was having a difficult time accepting myself. Going back to school didn't go as I had planned, I was 20 pounds heavier, it was the first birthday being single since I was in high school, and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life. I dreaded going to local stores and restaurants because I was afraid I would run into someone I knew from the past, and I wouldn't know what to say if they asked what I've been up to. I'm glad that I stayed hopeful, because 23 ended up being the most exciting and transforming year of my life. It was the year that I took the most chances, and learned the most about myself and the world around me.

Here are the 8 most important lessons I learned as a 23-year-old:
(Warning: Some of these are extremely cliché but still very true.)

1. I would much rather be single than be in the wrong relationship.
I used to base my confidence on my relationship status or the amount of dates I go on. I realize now that I need to be true to myself, and I will find the right man at the right time.

2. Someone's occupation, degree, or certification doesn't necessarily reflect who they are as a person.
Whether you are a doctor, waitress, educator, maintenance person, police officer, truck driver, or cashier, how you treat others is how I determine your character.

3. Drink more water and less Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi.
I've made major dietary changes this year, and the difference in my energy and confidence has been incredible.

4. No amount of guilt can change the past.
Don't dwell on your mistakes, learn from them.

5. Everyone has a story and a struggle that most people know nothing about.
I learned this through the TMI Project. Hearing peoples' stories made me more understanding and open-minded. The person you think is rude might have social anxiety, or the girl you think is perfect might have had a traumatic childhood. Be kind, you never know what someone is going through.

6. Go for it.
The successes I've had this year have come from pushing myself. From taking on an internship to publically reading my writing to submitting an article to MTV to traveling to Buffalo, I was terrified. I thought I would be judged or make a mistake. I'm so happy I found the courage to reach for my dreams.

7. Speak up for yourself, even if your voice shakes.
I was the girl who would confront professors about a grade I was given or state my opinion on lowering the drinking age, even if I was the only one in the class who opposed it (true story). Since I developed my psychiatric disorder, I became afraid to stand up for myself or others when I knew something wasn't fair. I'm finally starting to "feel the fire again" and I'm not going to let anxiety keep me from doing what's right.

8. I am strong, I am smart, I am beautiful, and I am powerful.

Bring it on, 24.


Friday, May 6, 2016

TMI in Buffalo

I'm sitting in my hotel room in Buffalo and trying to process all that has happened on my short trip. Several weeks ago, I had been asked by Eva and Sari, the directors of the TMI Project, to join them on a trip to Buffalo to read my piece about my journey with mental illness at their writing workshop. Getting the chance to travel AND discuss mental illness? I responded "yes" just nanoseconds after I got the email.

My mom and I took the nearly 7-hour train ride, and I got to see Western New York for the first time. Buffalo has been even more amazing than I thought it would be. This morning, I met up with the two TMI Project directors and the other readers, Ray and Valerie. We were picked up by members of The Service Collaborative of Western New York (Thank you Hannah!) and all headed to the University at Buffalo for the workshop. This specific TMI workshop was for several groups, including AmeriCorps. In all, there were approximately 150 people, mostly young adults, of diverse backgrounds and life experiences. They sat at round tables with 8 or 9 people per table. Some were already friends, and others were meeting for the first time today. By the end of the workshop, these 150 individuals would form an open and accepting place for people to open up about things they had thought they could never talk about.

We began with some examples of the polished pieces that were formed through different TMI workshops and events. The directors, Ray, Valerie, and I all stood at the front of the room and read our pieces. The participants were exposed to our stories about subjects like mental illness, marriage, sexuality, war, drug abuse, prison, failed relationships, and successful relationships. Each story brought both smiles and some tears. We wanted to let those participants know that everyone has a story that they think is "too much information," but in reality, these are the stories that people can relate to and be inspired by; in many cases, sharing these stories will bring the reader relief, clarity, and empowerment.

We answered some questions about our stories, the writing process, and publically reading our work. After they got a sense of how the TMI Project functions, they were given a choice of writing prompts and were asked to write for 15 minutes about one of the prompts or whatever they were feeling compelled to write. After the time was up, some people stood at the microphone to read what they had written. What happened next will stay with me forever.

The true and personal stories the participants were sharing took my breath away. They were opening up about difficult times in their lives in a natural, unfiltered, and emotional way. Some of them revealed things about their lives that they had never told anyone or had a hard time accepting themselves. Just the process of writing down their feelings and thoughts opened doors that weren't open when they sat at the round tables just two hours earlier.

The process of giving prompts or exercises followed by writing then reading continued throughout the workshop. As the day progressed, I saw a change in many of the participants. Some of the stories were light, and other stories were difficult for the reader to get out. Whether the audience response was happy or sad, everyone showed respect, encouragement, and a sense of support. All of the stories were thought-provoking, and I believe everyone in the room could relate to at least one other person's story.

From a quiet room to an open and accepting place, there was a transformation within the room today; I could see it and feel it. In all, everyone shared in small groups, and over 75% of the people shared at least some of their writing to the rest of the room. We laughed together, cried together, and made a beautiful bond. I hope every person learned the power and the value in writing and sharing their stories and had an opportunity to practice compassion and acceptance.

I received many many hugs today, and have never applauded more in my whole life. I can honestly say that this was one of the best and most inspiring days of my life. For me, it wasn't just reading at a workshop, it was my chance to learn that everyone has a story inside of them that they feel might be "too much information" that needs to be told. When we can tell those stories, we heal ourselves and can provide relief to someone else. We are powerful, and we are limitless. 

Goodbye for now Buffalo,