January 5, 2011

What Remains

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , , , — Marc Peters @ 9:00 am

I spent my entire freshman year, at Syracuse University, walking the fine line between manic and psychotic. Finally it was too much for my brain to take and as Spring Break ended and my friends were returning to class rested and rejuvenated, I found myself staring at the blank walls of a hospital room.

I fought my way back to campus and my final three years at Syracuse were a mix of brief respites of joy and the endless pain of recovery and adjusting to a new life. When my friends were out partying or toiling away in the library, I was holed up in my dorm, fast asleep. The exhaustion from the readjustment was enough to knock me out, but more so than that I was watching my sleep habits carefully to make sure to avoid restless, manic nights. As much as I wanted to rejoice at making it back to campus, I couldn’t. My thought processes were considerably slower after my bipolar diagnosis and subsequent pharmaceutical regimen. It took me three hours to complete homework assignments and readings that would have taken me thirty minutes in the past.

I couldn’t bring myself to try and process any of the trauma of that fateful Spring semester. I did not yet have the words or the courage to express how I was feeling – even to my closest friends and mentors. It was a lonely time for me. I was trapped in my own head and couldn’t see beyond my reality of the moment. I had yet to see any college students step forward and say “I have a mental illness. This is my struggle. Look at how I’m thriving.” The only examples I had to look to were the adults with whom I shared an inpatient stay – hardly a comfort.

My last visit to Syracuse in Fall of 2009 brought up many painful memories. Walking around campus meant retracing my footsteps on a journey that I don’t look back on with pride. I still have vivid flashbacks of manic conversations. I remember things I said that I can’t believe. I remember actions I took that shock me. You would think that with all that pain, I wouldn’t want to come back. Thankfully, those memories aren’t all that remain.

I’m just getting home from my most recent trip up to Syracuse. I had the opportunity to visit with the mentors that I’ve kept in touch with over the years, my extended family that supported me even when I didn’t know how to ask for their help, and the wonderful friends I made along the way. The amazing thing about when you are made vulnerable by circumstances beyond your control is that it invites those around you to draw near. Even now, I am so open about my struggles not only to set a positive example for those who are facing similar adversities, but also because it fosters a connection with people that I have yet to replicate any other way.

For those of you of you out there who haven’t been able to disclose your illness to people around you, just know that for all the stigma and misunderstanding there is also hope and love. I still hold on to the painful memories, the anxiety that they bring, and the shame I can’t seem to leave behind. I know one day I’ll have to shed that weight if I’m going to grow into the person I want to be, but in the meantime it helps to have the bright spots too. I’m so incredibly grateful for the people that have remained in my life and seen me through my highest highs and my lowest lows. I’m so thankful for what remains.


October 27, 2010

Why Men Don’t Seek Help

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Marc Peters @ 8:00 am

When I was a student at Syracuse University, I had the privilege of being involved with a student group called A Men’s Issue that is dedicated to redefining masculinity and ending gender violence. It allowed me to reevaluate and grow and when I went through periods of depressive, manic, or psychotic hell, I sought help (or at least didn’t resist if it sought me out). That isn’t the case for most men.

We are conditioned to toughen up and deal with it. Whereas girls are allowed to hold onto their tears throughout childhood, men are scolded for crying and learn to bottle up their emotions. In elementary school, we are more likely to be bullied than affirmed when expressing emotional need. In middle school, it is a scarce few who spend those awkward years feeling like anything other than an outcast. If we are depressed and try and express it, our concerns were brushed aside as being frivolous because we are young. Rather than being taught how to cope and how to put our emotions into words, we were mocked for our weaknesses. As a result, we learned to mask them. We show no fear, no hurt, and no pain.

Men- think back to high school, suppose you had a crisis of any kind, did you have a friend or teacher you would turn to and trust with such a disclosure. Maybe…if you were lucky. In general, men are taught as boys not to value relationships. We don’t learn that supportive relationships are vital to living a rewarding life. We don’t form close emotional bonds with our male friends for fear of being accused of being gay. Boys who build relationships with teachers are labeled as teacher’s pets. We know what is socially unacceptable and we adjust our behavior to meet the societal norms. We never learn appropriate coping skills. Now, fast forward to college, fast forward to adulthood. If you are a man and you seek help, do you fear damaging your reputation? Women- do you know men who will reach out or simply too damaged.

Violence is born out of frustration. This extends to suicide. It is a resort to violence against yourself when you don’t see that other options are available. Unless we break free from the boxes that society has forced on us, we will continue to fail to potential alternatives when suicidal. We will continue to keep help at arms length. And because we are so damaged, we will continue to fall short as full emotional partners in relationships and friendships.

I spent this past weekend at a nonviolence workshop and one of the activists passed a long a song (that may be too touchy feely for some, but it works for me): “I love you so much, so that you can love you so much, so that you can love me so much…” In this case, unadulterated love is a great end goal, but for the time being let’s just strip our relationships and friendships of judgment. Let’s work toward an environment where it is acceptable for men to seek help. Let’s be intentional and transparent with our help-seeking so that we can serve as models for others. Together, we can make this the last generation of men that is conditioned to avoid help and bottle up pain. Society made these rules, it’s up to us to break free from them.

Thanks for reading,


October 4, 2010

The Benefits of Advocacy: Healing through Empowerment

Filed under: Story, Youth — Tags: , , , , , , , — Linea @ 12:58 pm

1.the giving or delegation of power or authority; authorization

Some of my favorite synonyms for empowerment are “permission”, “acceptance”, “promise”.

I find it is perfect timing to write about this topic given such amazing blogs with similar themes. Themes of healing, community, and hope. Discussions of what selfishness means and what learning means. Please read Kim and Marc’s posts to get a sense of the kind of empowerment I am speaking of. These are the things I will attempt to discuss in this far too short blog post.

I think it is important to admit that I have very bad self-esteem. What I originally thought to be perfectionism is indeed something deeper, darker, and more painful. It is interesting that it is not an urge to be better or more perfect than others, but instead a need to be better than myself. A need to prove something to myself. A constant search for the words “good enough”.

Saying that having a diagnosis of bipolar disorder aggravates this problem is an understatement. To someone striving desperately to hear myself say, “You are okay. You are good enough,” having a diagnosis and an often uncontrollable grasp on my emotions is sometimes more than I can bare.

The unbelievable power of advocacy is an important part of my recovery. Through the last couple years of public speaking, writing, and completely baring my soul to thousands of strangers I have done exactly what Kim has done. I have learned and received far more from my audience then I have given.

Through the ability to be honest and open, and through the commitment to stand up and speak about the injustice of the current state of mental health I have healed, gradually, but thoroughly. These are the things that I have taken away:

I have seen what bravery is. Through perfect strangers I have witnessed the bravery that accompanies getting up in the morning. The bravery to go to work everyday. The bravery to tell a love interest that you have to deal with something he/she may not understand. I have seen the bravery that comes with being your full and complete self no matter how people see you.

I have seen what love is. I have felt the love of a community of people that in the past I might have seen as strangers. The love and complete understanding that comes from five minutes of sharing your story. The complete understanding that comes from others that have “been there too.”

And most importantly I have become empowered. I have given myself permission to be who I am. I have learned to accept that I have flaws and that I have the ability to use them for the betterment of myself and my chosen line of work. I have healed from the love given by a community that I feel more than honored to be part of. The love from people who know my darkest secrets and worries. Through my commitment to fight for change in an often broken system I have been given the ability and courage to forgive and accept myself. I have given myself the power and authority to be who I am.

These are the things of empowerment. These are the things that help us heal while simultaneously helping others struggling to do the same. So here is my plea: share a story, speak up, or silently listen and acknowledge. No matter how you go about advocating I promise it will be worth it. Though the road is rocky sometimes and though things may seem to disprove this belief, keep pushing. Proof is visible when you look at the family on the BringChange2Mind Facebook site. Proof is visible when you look at the family that you develop out of one truly open and honest conversation with a peer that has been there too. When you look into the eyes of someone searching for the courage to tell the story but is waiting for someone to go before them. Lead the way, you will not regret it.

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