Saturday, April 5, 2014

Mentally Ill People Are Not Crazy- The Stigma Continues

Recently I was contacted by an NYU journalism student to be in a documentary about debunking mental illness stigma. She found my piece on Fighting Against the Stigma of Mental Illness on The Huffington Post . I was thrilled that she found me, and told her I would be honored to be a part of this piece.

Living with panic disorder, I've encountered a lot of misunderstanding from the general public. It's hard enough to explain to friends and family what it means to have an anxiety attack let alone people who don't know you from a hole in the wall.

Case in point, I was consulting with an attorney the other day and I had to address my mental health history.
"I don't know what kind of mental health problems you actually have." The attorney said quite seriously looking me dead in the eye.
"I'm a neurotic Jew from New York." I responded confidently. "They're not serious. I manage depression and anxiety. I'm in therapy and I take antidepressants. I work as a substitute teacher and professional writer. I'm functioning just fine."

As soon a person hears that you have mental health issues, they automatically assume that those issues are serious. It doesn't matter if you're in appropriate treatment. The stigma surrounding mental illness is so pervasive that the public continues to generalize and characterize those of us managing these issues well as "crazy."

I have a problem with the word "crazy." It's a derogatory word. Crazy is defined as "mentally deranged." That sounds pejorative to me. Yet this word is used flippantly in the society to describe behavior that is undesirable. For example, if I'm having a disagreement with a friend and she disagrees with my point of view, a common colloquialism would be for her to say "you're crazy!"

Let's deconstruct what she's saying here:
"You're mentally deranged."

By all intents and purpose, if I disagree with my friend, I'm "mentally deranged, especially as manifested in a wild or aggressive way." I stole that from the dictionary. But you get the point. Next time you have an argument with your friend, how about saying "I disagree with you," instead of referring to an individual as mentally deranged.

Stigma surrounding mentally ill individuals is still out there, and we need to fight it with all our might.
I'm excited to participate in this documentary so that I can share my story and spread the word that mentally ill persons are not crazy, we're just people like everyone else.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dear Stranger On the Train Who Disciplined My Child

Dear Stranger On the Train Who Disciplined My Child,

Hi! We've never met before. I was on the 4 train on the way home from Manhattan with my two kids and their best friend. My kids and their friend Jonathan were fighting over the window seat. They all wanted to look out the window into the darkness. I know, it's funny right? Why would you want to look out a dark window? But, you know, kids. They fight over things we don't understand sometimes.

Anyhow, you took the time out of your train ride to say:
"Ari should give his sister a turn. Not Jonathan."
And you didn't say it once. You kept saying it over and over again while shaking your head.

I'm not sure why you're telling me this. I'm not entirely sure why you feel it's your responsibility or business to tell me this. I'm also (frankly) not entirely sure of your intention. I could speculate some potential things you may have been thinking:

  • You honestly thought you were helping me with parenting
  • You thought you knew better than I did 
  • You wanted to seem like an authoritative figure to your friend who was with you and to the entire train car
  • You were annoyed that my kids were being loud and wanted to comment on it
The truth is I have no idea why you were doing it, but I can tell you how it made me feel:

When you repeatedly told me that my kids should take turns and refused to stop, I felt frustrated. You see, I was already have a difficult time managing this problematic behavior. I was repeatedly telling my kids and their friend to take turns, and they were being resistant.

I felt like what I was doing wasn't working. I felt badly about myself as a parent. I questioned my parenting skills, and your shouting at me made me feel worse. 

Unsolicited advice is tricky. Sometimes, we don't know what to do as parents. There are times when I welcome feedback from other people who have done this before and might know better than I do. However, your manner of communicating the "advice" made me feel demeaned and incompetent, even though I'm not.

I said:
"Thank you for your advice, but these are my kids." And with that, I wanted you to stop talking to me. 

It is my hope that if you choose to bestow your "words of wisdom" on another unsuspecting soul on the 4 train, that you will think about the way you're communicating before you open your mouth. Think about the fact that the mother you're criticizing is overwhelmed and probably feeling like somewhat of a failure. So your criticism (although maybe meant to be helpful) is coming across as judgmental.

I hope you get to your destination safely and don't loose your Metrocard while judging someone.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Changes - I May Have to Say Goodbye to Online

My life is in the process of a major change right now. The frustrating thing is, I can't talk about why. I'm an open and honest person; honest to a fault. Sometimes I'll actually hold my tongue and not say anything to a person because I know if I say what I'm thinking it will be overly honest and probably alarm them.

Back to my life. My life is in flux. It's possible that I won't be able to continue blogging. This makes me incredibly sad. I don't want this to be the end of my life on the Internet. I enjoy sharing my stories. Believe me when I say it's not up to me. I don't want to stop sharing my stories with you. But I've been told by mysterious outside forces (that I can't get into right now) that it may be the best idea to stop sharing my stories online.

Writing is my form of therapy. I go to real therapy too, once a week, but this place…this is my place. I don't want to give it up. I know the couches, the crevices, the dark rooms and the light ones. I know this place because it is my home. I've lived here since 2009. When I moved in it had no furniture, but I built it all. I gathered the wood and I made benches and a bed to sleep in. I painted the walls and put pictures on them. Slowly but surely this blog began to feel like me. It began to be my real home on online.

I love it here. Sometimes, I laugh a lot here. Those are fun days in the house. And sometimes I cry and let it all out. Other times I scream into a pillow to express frustration, and then there are days that I don't know what to say so I write posts like these.

This is a different kind of post. An outside force is attempting to silence my voice. And I don't know if i have the capability to stop that voice. I don't know if I have the armor to put on and fight it. I'm a fighter for sure. I've fought against many unjust causes in my 34 years on this earth. But, I don't know how to take this one on.

I'm not being dramatic here. I'm not writing this so you can tell me how wonderful I am. I am writing this because I honestly feel like my life online might be coming to a close and I'm saddened about it.
Maybe it won't. Maybe I'll figure out a way around this. 

So if I abruptly disappear from the Internet, I love you guys. I'll keep writing always, it'll just be privately. I hope none of this happens. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dear Person I Offended

Dear Person I Offended,

You will probably never read this letter, because we are no longer connected through the world of social media. I'm going to say these things anyway because I feel them. I wrote about my past. My past is something that haunts me. I feel things deeply. I use this space to express them. Sometimes they're not pretty things. They are my reality. I told a story: that story involved you. I'm sorry if the way that I told the story offended you.

I am hurt by the way that you treated me in the past. I tried to tell you many times, but you ignored my attempts to express my feelings. I honor your feelings. I am willing to hear them, however, you do not feel the same about mine.

You called me offensive.
You said that I was nasty towards you.
I'm sorry you feel that way.
I feel badly that my truth and my words impacted you like that.
It was not my intention to hurt you.
It was my intention to tell my side of a story.

I am open to hearing your side.

But when you reached out to me to tell me how you felt, I was scared. I freaked out. I told you I couldn't talk about it. There are extremely scary things that I'm dealing with in my life at the moment. There are harsh life challenges that require my 100 percent focus. My family needs me more than anything.

You say you were upset by my words, and your response was to call me names.

I want to make something clear to you, I did not call you names in what I wrote. I expressed genuine emotions. You may disagree or feel that I'm telling the story wrong, and you are entitled to you opinion, but please allow me to have mine.

Again, I apologize for any anger, pain, hurt and other emotions that I may have ignited in you. But I do not apologize for telling my story.

I wish you all the best.

My Little Pony at Build-A-Bear Workshop

Sometimes fun things happen when I check my email. Here's an example: I got a message the other day from Amy at Build-A-Bear asking if the kids and I would like to come on down to the local store and meet My Little Pony Rarity and the Cutie Mark Crusaders, Build-A-Bear style.* I immediately said yes, and asked if the kids could bring their best buddy Jonathan with. Amy graciously said of course and off we went to the workshop!

We knew that we were there to meet the Cutie Mark Crusaders, but as soon as entered the store, Ari ran straight for his trusty friend Rainbow Dash:

Samara, naturally went for Pinkie Pie:

Part of the process of Build-A-Bear is that you get to watch your toy get filled up with stuffing. It's extremely exciting!

After the ponies were filled up, they looked like this:

Samara and Pinkie Pie and are tired :)

Here's the obligatory group shot:

My best buddy Jen and I and the kids and…there's my mom! Hi Mom!

Oh! And I almost forgot guys! Here's a Scootaloo!

Damn we had fun! So if you're pony fan, head on down to Build-A-Bear and check out the Cutie Mark Crusaders!

*Sometimes companies and email and ask me to do wonderful things that I'm grateful for. All opinions expressed are my own. Also I like you.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Guest Post: Ferber 2.0 By David de Souza

As parents, we all want the same thing. We want parenting to be just a little easier… and we want to sleep in. Technically that's two things, but we will revisit sleeping-in later… after the kids are in college.

Back to a little easier. We all know how rare it is for both parents to pull equal weight. Far too often, one caregiver gets stuck with the lion’s share, and most of the time, that’s mom. It’s also mom who gets them up in the morning, it’s mom who feeds them, and it's mom who deals with the meltdowns.

Certainly, dad jumps in when he can, but when things go south, mom is the one everyone runs to… including dad. The problem is so widespread that every issue of Parents Magazine and its ilk has an article or two on “How to Get Dad to Do His Share.” A sea of ink offers advice from therapists, life coaches, and even Gwyneth Paltrow (pre-conscious uncoupling). All suggest different solutions; meditation DVDs, family meetings and even a gluten-free diet are the supposed keys to a healthy, equal parenting household. They’re not.

Oddly, it was in another section in those same magazines that I found the real solution: the Ferber Method. That's right, the secret is simple…
let dad cry it out.

Now, bear with me. I know Dr. Ferber had children in mind when he wrote Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, but what I propose is Ferber 2.0: The Dad Edition.

Yes, mom, all it takes is some tough love and my Ferber 2.0 (patent pending) to give you a break and strengthen dad’s bond with the kids. Best of all, there are only four simple steps to follow…

1. Daddy Bye-Bye Routine
Ferber 1.0 has the “Baby Bedtime” routine; Ferber 2.0 has the “Daddy Bye-Bye” routine. The “Daddy Bye-Bye” starts with mom giving dad an easy-to-follow list. And moms don’t assume dads know what they’re doing. We don’t. Run through the list with him. Now, he may interrupt you with "I know this," or my favorite, "Stop worrying, I’ll be fine.” Ignore his lies and keep on with the program.

Remember your list is not just a how-to guide; it’s an anchor dad can cling to when things get crazy. When the kids are crying for mommy, dad can say, “I know you want mommy, she always knows what to do. Hey, let’s check mom’s list and see what we should do.” Then he will paw at the list like a Cro-Magnon installing a Combi car seat, before throwing it out and plopping the kids down to watch “Wonder Pets.” (At least that’s what I did.)  

2.  Leave!
Just like in Ferber 1.0, this is the most important part of the method. Mom has to leave. If mom stays in the house, the kids will look to her for help, and not dad. “I can hide in my office,” you say. It won’t work…the same kid who can’t smell his own poop can sniff out mom like a zombie looking for fresh brains. Before you know it, mom will be on the floor covered in drool while dad is upstairs playing Xbox. (At least that’s what I did.)

While the ultimate goal is for mom to be in the house and still have dad take the lead, in the beginning, mom has to leave. I still recall when my wife left me alone with the kids for the first time. In fact, I recall it every Thursday with Doctor Spielvogel, during our weekly primal scream sessions. The kids screamed “mommy” for 30 minutes until we did a room-by-room, “NCIS”-worthy search of the property. (“Kitchen – clear!” “Living room – clear!” “Bathroom – clear!”) It was only after I produced incontrovertible proof that mommy had left the house (empty driveway) that they calmed down.

Moms, I know it’s hard to leave, especially when you can still hear “Please, mommy, please, don’t go!” Realize that ten minutes after you leave, your husbands will calm down. Just remember: they will be fine.

3. Check-In
Ferber 1.0 has the parent checking-in when they hear the child crying. If you’ve been following my steps then by now you have left the house, so let’s assume they are crying, because they will be. Should you start to feel anxious or want an update, feel free to text or call – from the bar – er, the Starbucks.

4. Stop Checking-In
Ferber 1.0 recommends that each night, parents should increase the amount of time between check-ins. The same goes for Ferber 2.0. Each time dad is alone with the kids, mom will able check-in less. Moms, following these steps is the key to walking confidently out the door, knowing that after your diligent training, the heartbroken darlings will learn to self-soothe… and so will the children.

The author of this post is not a certified family psychologist, pediatrician, life coach or cat herder. Any guarantees for the safety and security of your home are purely theoretical. This method works best when paired with a kitchen full of junk food and a Netflix subscription.

David is a father of three. He’s raising his kids with love and sarcasm. Mostly sarcasm. He spends his days working as a digital producer and writer and his nights testing the patience of his lovely wife. Follow him on Twitter @deSouza_palooza 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Hop

I find it hilarious when people ask me what my writing process is. The reason is that I have no process. I think of ideas while walking down the street, sitting on the toilet, talking to a friend and generally being a human being. If an idea comes to me I have to write it down right away. Whoa, I just used write and right in the same sentence. That was unexpected. 

When my Internet best friend Jessica Davis included me in this blog hop about the writing process, I was really excited because I love to talk about myself, I mean writing. I also love to read other writers. Thanks Jess, you're amazing! 

Here's how I write stuff. 

What am I working on right now?

I'm working on two books at the moment. One is a book version of my viral Huffington post article 3-Year-Olds are Assholes. I'm working on this project with a co-author, Byron Hamel, a long time friend and fellow blogger at Trauma Dad.  We're in the process of submitting the manuscript to various agents. 

The second manuscript I'm writing is my memoir about living with panic disorder and depression. You know you all want to read that one. Here's some excerpts from that on HuffPost 

How does my work differ from others of it’s genre?

3-Year-Olds are Assholes is a unique humor book because it's sarcastic and heart-warming all in one. It encourages parents that they are not alone. That's a first for a humorous parenting books as far as I'm concerned.

Panic - my memoir is different from any mental health-based memoir in that it is brutally honest about dark themes yet hysterically funny at times. That's not something one sees often in a Sylvia Plath-like book.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

I don't know how to answer this question. I write because I have to. Without writing, I don't know if I would even be alive anymore.

How does my writing process work?

It just does. I think of ideas and I stop whatever I'm doing if humanly possible to write. Writing is part of my being. I can't exist without it. I am what I write. I reach into the confines of my soul and spill my guts onto paper. 

For a complete list of people who are involved in this blog hop click here to Jess' post because honestly, I'm a lazy ass mother fucker. 

Byron and Jen, if you feel like doing this, it's fun.