Introducing the last member of the new Humans of Edmonton Experience team – the man who started it all: Jerry

Introducing the last member of our team: Jerry

As a kid there are few defining moments in your life that can alter the course of your existence. Mine was when my father abandoned us. I will never forget it. He left when I was 8 years old and to be honest, good riddance but that still doesn’t make it any better. He terrorized my mother and caused her such heartache. The WIN House was a place we called home for awhile.

After he left, my mother, grandmother and myself had to learn to fend for ourselves. I was so angry with my father for leaving and often blamed my mother. A boy should have his father and he abandoned us. I didn’t understand any of it. I had to grow up quickly because my mother spoke very little English and I had to become the man of the house and help her. I learned how to do the banking, pay bills, cook, clean, and grocery shop.

Now being raised by a single mom, we often used the services that were offered. We survived on social assistance, the food bank and the generosity of friends. I suddenly was shifted into a world where I got used to what hungry felt like.

Growing up wasn’t easy, I was angry and wasn’t an easy kid to deal with and my mother didn’t know how to help me. I suddenly had no rules and more freedom than I knew what to do with.

Jerry
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

When I was 12 years old I would sneak out at night and roam the streets. I ended up talking to the ladies of the night while they were waiting for their next customer with tears in their eyes. I would bring snacks and talk to the homeless, I was never afraid for some reason, just very curious about people and why they were in the situation they were in. I think this is why I can do what I do today. I would learn from people, their body language and facial expressions, how they wore masks and tried to be someone they never really were. This is where I started to learn compassion for the broken and lost souls of humanity.

During high school, one thing that distracted me from wrecking havoc on my life was the love of sports. I was really good at basketball and I loved it. Nothing would or could stop me from playing but I got in with the wrong crowd and things changed for me.

I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol and found myself creating a character to help with the anxiety and sadness I would feel most of the time. This character was fun and fearless and I found myself liking him more and more.

People wanted to be around me because I made them laugh, little did they know and I was more comfortable playing him than I was the real me. This led me to eventually be out of control and rely heavily on drugs and alcohol. For over a span of 10 years, drugs and alcohol was my main existence. My life was a huge contradiction. By day I was working with kids and adults with disabilities and by night I was partying like there was no tomorrow. I didn’t care, I loved the high and I wasn’t afraid. Eventually I realized I needed help because I was so out of control and the coming down from the high was excruciating, I lost everything.

I knew I needed help and couldn’t do it on my own so I admitted myself into rehab. I have to admit, I ended up going back a few different times because I would slip up and be right back where I started but I have to be honest with you, rehab taught me a lot about myself and I realized why I was doing what I was doing to myself. I also realized I was good at helping others and that started my journey to finding my purpose in life.

I picked up a camera and I can actually say photography saved my life. It gave me a purpose and a reason to do what I love and that is sitting down with the broken and forgotten humans that are so often passed by without a glance. The first time I took the first photo, I was hooked. I spent all my spare time practicing and learning about photography. I studied all the great photographers and knew I wanted to be one of them.

Jerry 1
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

It’s funny with all the photos I have taken and I have taken thousands, you will never get to see my best photos because I have never taken them. More often than not when I sit down with someone and ask them, “how are you today”, they can look at me with such pain in their eyes that it takes my breath away but I understand it. I sit down and I listen. I have no desire to take those photos, because not all pain needs to be documented.

I feel more comfortable with the souls of the street than I do with any other type of people. They are my people and I feel at home with them. They trust me now and know I have their best interest at heart. Through my photography, I am raising awareness for the way they live and creating change in the hearts of the people who follow my work.

Jerry 2
Photo: Jerry

At times I receive messages from family members of someone I have posted and they are so thankful their father is alive because they haven’t seen them in 5 years or someone I have posted has passed away and they message me asking if they could use my photo for the funeral.

I am not driven by wealth or material possessions. I’ve been there, done that and it didn’t do anything for me, it actually complicated my life so much that I never want to go back to that lifestyle again. I am a simple man with simple needs and live an hour out of the city to get away from the hustle and bustle. For 10 years I didn’t have access to the Internet or even have a cell phone.

One day, a friend of mine told me I should check out Humans of New York and out of curiosity I did. I realized, that is exactly what I have been doing all along and could share my photos with other people in the same way so I created Humans of Edmonton Experience and the rest as they say, is history.

With all of this being said, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to find myself, to find my purpose in life. I have to admit, I used to look back on my life and wonder what if things were different, I could’ve been this or I should have been that but then I shake my head and realize, this is exactly who I am supposed to be.

Thank you for joining me on this incredible ride.

The Team
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

#ScarredNotBroken #IheartEdmonton #HumansofEdmontonExperience #bekindtooneanother

Advertisements

Introducing the third team member of the new Humans of Edmonton Experience…Neil

Introducing to the team: Neil Kennedy…

Neil
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

I learned the true meaning of hard work at a very young age. My folks made sure we had food on the table, a roof over our heads but more importantly a loving family.

Living on the farm we learned the true meaning of hard work. We were part of a small community and we all contributed to each other’s livelihood. We all trusted each other even when strangers came around, they were treated like family. But I soon learnt that trusting someone doesn’t mean they are trustworthy.

There was a stranger who would frequently visit the farm. He was always kind to the kids, giving out treats and making us laugh but I learned later he was a monster. He sexually abused me and stole my innocence. I knew I should tell my mom, but I didn’t want to burden her because she was going through hell of her own. My dad was killed in a hunting accident and she lost the love of her life. That man finally stopped coming around. I don’t know what ended up happening to him but growing up I always hoped to see him again one day to settle the score.

My whole family had to relocate to Edmonton. We had no money for a home of our own so we relied on the generosity of family and friends. We all ended up going our separate ways, just trying to survive the best we could.

We were all broken kids, we lost our home, our dad, we just lost all hope. I saw my sister take her last breath. I was losing everyone that I loved. I had so much anger inside of me and no way of understanding how to deal with all of the pain, I turned it into learning how to live on the streets. I turned to drugs and alcohol because I didn’t want to feel anymore. I was homeless for years and my new home was the inner city and my new family were it’s people. I came to rely on the Bissell Centre and the The Mustard Seed for my basic needs like food, clothing and a hot cup of coffee.

One day while I was at the The Mustard Seed centre, I thought, I could help out. What my parents taught me still stayed with me and I wanted to give back to the organization that was there for me. I asked the staff if I could volunteer and that is the day my life started to take a turn. It felt good to give back, it felt good to have a purpose and help those who became my family. I cleaned the tables and did whatever was needed. I volunteered at Bissell Centre centre as well and as much as I could and realized helping gave me back purpose and a direction that has carried me through to this day. I ended up being hired on at the Bissell centre and have volunteered and worked there for over 20 years.

I have moved on from there and now I dedicate my time and my life in helping out in the inner city and those who are less fortunate. They are my family and I work to ensure we have what we need everyday.

To the Humans of Edmonton Experience, I bring over 40 years of experience in the inner city. I will be doing inner city walks to show people what it’s like to live on the streets and explain what the different agencies in the city do to help with homelessness. One of the biggest reasons I want to give back is because I owe it to myself to be kind to all those have help me and to show my son and daughter that I have not seen in years what I have become.

My strength is my compassion and to always strive to make a difference in this world. I am very proud of where I have come from to where I am now, life couldn’t have been a lot different.

I received the Diamond Jubilee Award from the Queen for recognition for volunteering in my country, a plaque from the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in Recognition of Human Rights, the Human Rights Award nominated by Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta’s Promise Award for my commitment to youth and children, Outstanding Service of an Individual from the Bissell Centre, 2006 Volunteer of the year from the Bissell Centre and the Commitment to Volunteerism.

When I was born I had no clothing and no pockets and that’s the way I’m going out.

Neil 2
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

#Scarrednotbroken #IheartEdmonton #humansofedmontonexperience

Dear Homeless People: Why Don’t You Just Go Get a Job??

“Why don’t you just go get a job you bum?”

“I’m not giving you any money. You’re just going to spend it on drugs or alcohol you dumb drunk.”

“Don’t look at me, don’t talk to me. You’re just a lazy beggar.”

“Get off our streets. You’re a waste of skin you dumb welfare junkie.”

Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience
“Nobody dreams of growing up to be an alcoholic, an addict, a divorcee, broken, and depressed. Bad things do happen to good people, and it’s the good people, the broken ones, that always seem to have vacancy in their hearts for those who would not even give them a room in theirs.” ~LM Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

Imagine not having eaten in days. Imagine having slept on a cold concrete sidewalk with nothing but a pile of leaves for a pillow, bugs crawling all over you and rain or snow pouring on you. Imagine going weeks without a positive human contact experience. Without a smile from a stranger. Without a hug. Without any sense of compassion. Imagine being literally spit on when you ask a stranger for some change so you can buy a hot meal. Imagine strangers looking at you like you’re no better than the dirt on the bottom of their shoes. Imagine not owning a pair of shoes. Can’t imagine it? It’s hard, I know. It’s hard if you’ve never been there, walked a mile in those shoes.  How about we go for a walk, right now, a virtual one. One where you’ll be wearing the shoes of a homeless person, in many cases, you’re lucky if you have a pair of socks to walk in, let alone shoes. If you are one of the people who has said the things (or something similar) above, to a homeless person or about a homeless person, then my hope is that by the end of this blog, those words will be turned into care and compassion. And understanding.

2
Don’t judge me because as far as I know I haven’t let you borrow my shoes to walk in… Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

This morning you probably woke up when your alarm went off and even though you didn’t want to leave the warmth and comfort of your bed you crawled out anyway because life calls. You grudgingly walked to your kitchen to put on the coffee and then went to the bathroom to begin your morning ritual. You hopped in your nice hot shower, same as you do every morning, and you washed your hair and did everything else you normally take care of in the shower. After your shower you looked through your closet and tried to decide what to wear. But first you checked the weather app on your phone to see what will be appropriate to stay warm/cool throughout the day. After you dressed you went to make a cup of coffee; the smell of it wafting through the house is so delicious you couldn’t wait another second to get your hands around a mug. You sat down for a few minutes enjoying your coffee and the few minutes of silence in your house before everyone else woke up. You woke your kids up, told them what the weather is going to be like, so they knew how to dress, then they came to the kitchen and you fed them a full, hearty breakfast. While they ate their breakfast, you made their lunches for school. You opened your fridge and gave the kids options of what kind of fruit and vegetable they want. There were so many options.

After breakfast, the kids took a few minutes trying to decide what jacket and shoes would match their outfit of the day. You all walked out of your house, you set your alarm and got to your vehicle, which has been running to warm up so you and the kids could have a comfortable ride. With the kids safely at school, you headed off to work.

Does that sound like your morning? Give or take a couple kids or a couple steps? Here’s where this walk we’re on may go off from your usual daily path…

3

You get to work and your boss calls you into their office. When you get there, a representative from the Human Resources department is there as well. This can’t be good. They explain to you that they just don’t have a position for you anymore. They have no choice but to let you go. All of a sudden, without any warning, you don’t have a job.

It doesn’t immediately hit you how big of a deal this is. You go through many emotions. Anger, sadness, confusion. You were a hard worker, you hardly ever called in sick, you didn’t take extra long lunch breaks. You worked hard. Why you? Why did this happen to you?

4
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

Soon, reality hits. You no longer have an income. Your partner doesn’t make enough money to sustain the house on their own. Worse, your partner’s hours got cut back, or they also lost their job. Or were you the sole income earner of your house? A single parent, or single person taking care of yourself. How are you going to do that now? The economy isn’t good. No one seems to be hiring.

Months pass. Unemployment Insurance gets cut back even more than the little you’re already getting. It’s not enough. Not enough to pay the rent/mortgage, bills, food. Before you know it, you’re hitting up the food bank to help put food on your table. But the bills keep piling up. You have to move. But where? You can’t afford the rent anywhere with no job and a bank won’t even look at you for a mortgage with no job. Soon, you find yourself knocking on the door of one of the shelters in the city. Your kids are put in foster care until you get back on your feet. But what if everything that just happened to you is too much to deal with. You have a mental breakdown. You turn to alcohol or drugs to mend the pain that keeps growing. Soon you find yourself somewhere you never imagined you’d ever be – tonight you had to sleep on the cold concrete sidewalk with nothing but a pile of leaves for a pillow, bugs crawling all over you and rain or snow pouring on you.

 

You still don’t think this could happen to you, right? What if I told you that this is exactly how a good number of Edmonton’s homeless population became homeless? Remember the Fort McMurray fire a couple years ago? So many people’s homes burned to the ground. Most had insurance that would eventually pay for them to have a new house built, and in the meantime they stayed with friends or family. Would you believe me if I told you that there were some people whose house burned down and they didn’t have insurance, or family to turn to so they are now spending another winter on the streets.

I’ve heard so many people, too many, ask of a homeless person “why don’t they just go get a job?”. Think about that for a second. Some of our homeless are wearing the same set of clothes for weeks or even years on end. Never washed. Some of our homeless don’t even remember the last time they had the luxury of even a cold shower, let alone a hot one. Their hair could be crawling with lice. Some, yes, some, are struggling with addiction. But not all. Some are just struggling to survive.  Some don’t have bank accounts to receive pay from a job. And all of them, don’t have an address to list on the job application. So for those of you who wonder why the homeless don’t just “go and get a job”, answer me this: would you hire someone who hasn’t showered, is wearing dirty clothes, probably stinks due to no access to a shower, and who has no bank account or stable address? If you answer yes, please contact me ASAP – I have a lot of people who I’d like you to offer a job to. If you answer no, please show some compassion and understanding the next time you see a homeless person. You don’t have to give them money if you don’t want to. You could buy them a coffee or hot chocolate. Give them the apple left over from your lunch. But at the very least, the one thing you could give them that would mean the world to them and doesn’t cost you a thing is – a smile. Respect. Compassion.

A lot of people think that most people who live on the streets are aboriginals, drunks and/or drug addicts. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you took the time to talk to some of our homeless people, which I have done, you’d learn that a lot of the homeless aboriginals are still struggling from what happened to them at the Residential Schools (look it up if you haven’t heard about those). They weren’t offered any help to learn to heal from the abuse they endured. They don’t know how to deal with it.

5
“I just need that one chance. That one opportunity to have something good in my life. Sometimes I wish I could go back in life. Not to change anything but to learn from my mistakes.” Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

Some of our homeless population are kids who fled from abusive parents. Yup, you read that right. Kids. Living on the streets. Kids who were being abused or rejected by their own family. Kids who didn’t have anywhere else to turn.

9
“I’ve been living on the streets for years. I’m seventeen but I tell people I’m twenty. Since I was little we bounced around from couch to couch, house to house. Every time my parents fought because of my dad’s drinking we ended up trying to find somewhere to sleep…” Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

Others are people who got into an accident and didn’t have insurance or coverage to help take care of their bills while they healed. Bills piled up. Collectors started calling. Eventually the bank took their home back. Notice how banks and bill collectors don’t really care what’s going on in your life? They have a business to run too – they just want their money. A lot of people who live on the streets are people who couldn’t stop falling behind while healing from an injury that prevented them from working.

21768401_1457391907678776_1322722814528041130_n
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

There’s one homeless man who I met a couple years ago. He’s around the same age as me. He’s from the east. He had a wife and two kids. Losing his job hit him hard. He was the bread winner. It was his job to take care of his family. He fell into a depression. He ended up using some drugs to ease the pain. It worked, temporarily. Soon, he was addicted. And still depressed. His wife left him and took the kids. He ended up living on the streets. When I met him, his fingers were black. Frost bite from sleeping on the streets in our bitter cold winters. He’s still addicted to drugs. Still homeless. Still depressed. He misses his wife. He’s aching to see his kids. But he feels stuck. He’s afraid he’ll die on the streets. The sad reality is, he probably will.

I’ve met many homeless people over the years. I have yet to meet one who has chosen to be homeless. Many choose to stay living on the streets because they’ve been there so long that it’s their comfort zone. They don’t want the responsibility of paying bills. They’re content. But they didn’t initially choose to be there. And most of our homeless population would give anything to be in your shoes right now. I hope this walk in someone else’s shoes has helped to open your eyes if they were closed to this epidemic. I hope that you’ll find a way to help those less fortunate than you. Even if it is just a smile. A smile will last a lifetime. At the very least, we need to change the way the general population looks at and treats our homeless population. They’re people too. They deserve respect. They deserve love. They deserve to be treated like a human.

8
“I don’t make too many wishes these days. The outside is my house. The sky is my window and where I do most of my watching. “What are you watching for? “My life.. I look up at the sky and God above gives me direction.” Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

My daughter’s school is in the inner city. Where many homeless people live. Every day for a couple weeks we would drive by this homeless camp. She felt the urge to befriend the homeless man who was living inside. His name was Bruce. She would bring him some food every morning. Until one day we drove by, and his camp was gone. It happens all the time. Homeless camps are forced to be taken down about a week or so after they’ve set up their new “home”. Just as they start to get comfortable in their home. Their HOME. A tarp and cardboard box. A shopping cart with all their belongings. This is what people don’t see happening. Yeah sure there’s shelters – but they can only house so many people. Not near all our homeless population. And many homeless people do want a sense of home when they lay their heads down to sleep. But they’re denied that every time they’re forced to destroy their home and set up elsewhere.

ciara
My daughter giving her homeless friend, Bruce, some food in his home.

 

Bruce
Yesterday when we drove by Bruce’s home, it was torn down. No sign of Bruce. This broke my daughter’s heart.

So I hope I’ve dragged up lots of emotions within your heart by now. I’ve been experiencing so many while writing this. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever written because my heart just aches for those less fortunate. Those lost souls who just want to feel loved. I hope you’ll show them some love. How? There’s so many ways.

10
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

As mentioned earlier, a simple smile when walking past goes a long way. Spare change if you have – it doesn’t always go to drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, often, it goes to a meal or coffee. Food is also always welcome. But mostly love. Give love.

My daughter and I are arranging our 3rd annual Christmas Warmth on the Streets. We will be putting together care packages and handing them out to many of our homeless on December 22. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to give one to every homeless person, but we’d like to help as many as possible. You can help with that too if you’d like. The link to donate to the GoFundMe campaign is below but you can also contact me directly if you’d rather donate items. I will be sharing a list of items needed for the care packages on Scarred, Not Broken’s Facebook page.

2017 Christmas Warmth on the Streets – GoFundMe Campaign

At the very least, if nothing else, please just show your compassion by giving a smile instead of ignoring our homeless.

7
“Sometimes it’s easy to walk by because we know we can’t change someone’s whole life in a single afternoon. But what we fail to realize is that simple kindness can go a long way toward encouraging someone who is stuck in a desolate place.” ~M.Y Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

What Happens When a Mental Illness Goes Untreated

Mental illness. It comes in so many forms. Too many forms. It affects more people than you probably realize. Guaranteed you know someone whose suffered from a mental illness, or still is suffering. Mental illness isn’t a disease that always has symptoms or side effects obvious on the outside. They’re mostly inside. Not just the brain, but the heart too. So many people who suffer from mental illness suffer alone. Why is that? I’m a 33-year-old woman and I’ve suffered from mental illness for most of my life. Alone. For too long. Here’s my story of suffering, and how I finally became “ok”.

mental-health-disorders

Mental Illness as a Teenager

I’ve been suffering with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. As a teen, it went un-diagnosed. It seemed like I was just a regular, angry, rebellious teen. However due to a propane explosion I was in when I was nine years old, I was forced to live life with skin graft scars all over my body. I looked so different from everyone else in our town. I looked like a freak. I felt like a freak. So understandably, inside I was suffering. I remember crying myself to sleep more nights than not. I remember praying to God while scratching at the scars on my face to make me wake up looking normal. No more scars. Little did I know at the time, the internal scars were what was causing my pain. The external scars were just a mask.

I was suffering. Likely from PTSD as well as depression. I saw counselors, but never for what I was feeling deep down. Never for what I was suffering in my brain and heart. Counselors were there to mend my dying relationship with my parents (which is now fine), to help me to stop being so rebellious (which didn’t work). But nobody ever asked me how I FELT. How I felt to be such an obvious outcast. How I felt about being a burn survivor. How I felt when I looked in the mirror. I was scared to say anything too. The last thing I ever wanted was for anyone to think I was feeling sorry for myself or looking for attention.

images (1)

So how did I deal with my depression as a teen? I smoked cigarettes to fit in with other kids. I drank alcohol to fit in and to numb the pain inside. I took drugs so I would look “cool” with all the other “cool” kids. But I was still hurting inside. In fact, because of my “self-medication” I hurt even more. But I was just a kid. I didn’t know that I was suffering from a mental illness. Despite crying everyday, sometimes multiple times a day (usually to myself), I thought it was normal. Probably because I so badly wanted to be normal, and because depression just wasn’t talked about.

I also attempted suicide three times as a teenager. I don’t think I wanted to die. I just wanted the pain to end. I was tired. Tired of crying so much. Tired of the ache in my heart I felt daily, all day. Tired of feeling so alone in this big world. As a teenager, you don’t think of the future. You don’t think that it could be ok one day. You think that what you feel now, is what life is really like. It seems like there is no end to the pain and you’ll suffer forever, if you don’t end it.

assisted-suicide-heartbeat-in-hand

IF YOU’RE A TEENAGER READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW AND TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THAT IT DOES GET BETTER. Please believe me. Ask for help. There is no shame in that. Turn to a friend, teacher, co-worker, family member – anyone you can trust. You don’t have to suffer alone. And I promise you that you won’t suffer forever. Please ask for help.

 

Mental Illness as a Young Adult

I became a mom at 20 years old. I wasn’t in a good relationship. I had no self esteem and didn’t think I deserved to be with someone who truly cared for me and took care of me – this is another side effect to mental illness. I was still suffering from depression and anxiety; because I never got help for it. The thing about mental illness is when you have it, it takes over your entire mind. 24/7. No days off. Sure some days you feel happier than others, but the pain always seems to come back. When you have anxiety your mind doesn’t shut off. Your brain with anxiety, doesn’t allow you to think rationally. You have completely irrational thoughts that you think make sense, even though the scenarios you play out in your mind never really happen.

e58bb-1473531445963

The man I was with when I got pregnant was not a good guy. He was mentally abusive (which is damaging in and of itself but especially when you’re suffering from mental illnesses). He didn’t really love me. I didn’t think I could do better. My mind told me I couldn’t. Not just that I couldn’t do better but that I didn’t deserve better. My friends and family despised him. They saw how he treated me. They also knew that I deserved better. But I wouldn’t listen to them. Because I didn’t want to be alone. I stayed with him for three years. Until all of a sudden, I was responsible for another human being – I may not have cared about myself enough to leave. But I would have done anything for the little girl I was holding in my arms.

I left this man when my daughter was only three months old. I was scared to be a single mom, but I was more scared of him making her feel as worthless as he made me feel. Being a single mom is HARD. Of course, because I still hadn’t sought help, I was still suffering from depression and anxiety. More so now than before. Now I had to deal with if I was being a good enough mom. I was dealing with being alone again. I wasn’t ok. I didn’t know that it was ok to not be ok. I didn’t know that I could ask for help.  So I continued to suffer; and self medicate.

its-okay-not-to-be-okay-quote-2

As a young mom, I went to the bars often, looking for someone or something to cure my pain. I was looking for a cure in the form of alcohol, sex (sometimes with complete strangers) and harder drugs. Now, please know that although I was young, dumb, suffering and in a very bad place in my own mind, my daughter never suffered. I always made sure she was taken care of. Diapers came before cigarettes and booze. She always came before men and drugs. But that didn’t help anything. It just meant my daughter wasn’t suffering too. With that said, I know I wasn’t there for her as much as I could have been; should have been. I know I wasn’t the mom she deserved. Although I’d have given everything for her, I was still suffering in silence.

When my daughter was 2.5 I finally decided to go see a doctor. I couldn’t stop crying. All day, all night. I was crying over everything big and small. I finally received an official diagnosis – sort of. I was diagnosed as clinically depressed and given a prescription for anti-depressants. I still suffered from anxiety and likely PTSD (this would never be officially diagnosed, but all the signs and symptoms were there – I did blow up a cabin after all).

The meds helped. But then, again I was young and thought I knew better, so I decided after a year of being on the meds to take myself off them. I didn’t seek a doctor’s advice on it. I didn’t want to have to depend on a pill to make me happy. And I felt better. Boy was I wrong.

IF YOU’RE A YOUNG ADULT/PARENT READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW AND TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THAT IT DOES GET BETTER. Please believe me. Ask for help. There is no shame in that. Turn to a friend, teacher, co-worker, family member – anyone you can trust. You don’t have to suffer alone. And I promise you that you won’t suffer forever. Please ask for help.

Mental Illness as a Wife and Mom

Fast forward a number of years. I’m now a married woman to a wonderful man. A man who not only treats me like a queen, but makes me feel like one too – daily. We have three amazing children together. He legally adopted my daughter and we’re one happy family. Or so it seemed…on the outside.

DSC_2085-crop

Before I got pregnant with our youngest child, I was still suffering. I just didn’t know it. I was done with the drugs many years ago, but I was still finding ways to self-medicate, mostly with cigarettes and alcohol. I wasn’t an alcoholic by any means, but I would have a drink or two every evening to relieve the stress; a.k.a. self medicate.

I would lash out at my husband and kids over the smallest things. Someone didn’t flush the toilet – and I would lose my mind – you’d think someone had instead flushed my wedding ring down the toilet. When I say lose my mind, it’s exactly what you’re picturing. Hours of me being so angry. Yelling. Screaming. Swearing. My kids were scared of me (talk about the worst feeling in the world). My husband felt like he was always walking on egg shells around me, scared to set me off. I thought it was normal. But I was miserable. I was so sad, so angry and I didn’t know why.

200_s

At one point, I was planning on leaving my husband. I had no real reason why. He honestly is the most amazing man I’ve ever met. He’s never abused me or the kids in any way. He works so hard for us and provides for us. He supports me in everything I do. He’s tried to help me when I’ve had my melt downs. But I was convinced I had to leave. Now, today, I believe it was because I didn’t think I deserved to be happy. I didn’t deserve this wonderful life that was right in front of me. This was the mental illness talking to me. I was still suffering – from depression and anxiety.

Mothers Day 2017. My kids and husband doted on me and spoiled me. They made me feel as special as possible – or at least they tried. I had the ultimate break down. I can’t even tell you what it was over because I don’t know. I was yelling and crying and just plain old miserable. To this day I still feel so awful for the way I treated my family. They did absolutely nothing wrong but I still felt like I needed to take the pain I was feeling inside out on them by yelling and not allowing us to have a good day as a family. This was my rock bottom.

30641310 - depressed man sitting alone because many problems

The next day I made an appointment with my doctor. I explained to him what had happened the day before and what was going on inside my head and my heart. Finally, after almost 25 years of suffering, I received the proper diagnosis. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. And I was prescribed medication that we hoped would help – it did. So much. So much so that my kids have noticed a difference. They tell me that I seem happier. That I don’t yell as much. That I let the little things go and I don’t focus on them anymore. My husband and I are so much happier. Our marriage is healthy. Our family is healthy. I am healthy.

Medication isn’t the answer for everyone suffering from mental illnesses. Every person is different. Every brain is different. Every mental illness is different. Every form of treatment is different.

The point I’m trying to get across is to ASK FOR HELP. Don’t be ashamed in asking for help if you’re suffering inside. Don’t think people will think you’re just looking for attention or feeling sorry for yourself – that’s the mental illness destroying you. People who care about you want you to be happy. To be OK. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to take medications prescribed to you by a doctor if they’re working. If you’re no longer suffering. Trust me, asking for help is the best thing you can do for your loved ones but mostly for yourself. It is OK to not be OK. But you also deserve to be OK. And you will be. You’re not alone. Mental illness is very real, very common and very scary. You need to be the one to ask for help for yourself. Put yourself first.

36278da9b58f49685f94270dcb9cf9ea--reality-of-life-love-you-so

And always remember that on those bad days that might creep up – just take one breath at a time. It will be OK. You will be OK.

IF YOU’RE A HUMAN READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW AND TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THAT IT DOES GET BETTER. Please believe me. Ask for help. There is no shame in that. Turn to a friend, teacher, co-worker, family member – anyone you can trust. You don’t have to suffer alone. And I promise you that you won’t suffer forever. Please ask for help.

19990472_10155348272416745_7552891014250830546_n

This is a tattoo I got for myself after my breakdown on Mother’s Day. It’s a reminder that I am a survivor of mental illness, that I deserve to be OK, that my story isn’t over yet.