Lonely No More – Guest Blog

Written By: Alison Seponara, MS, LPC 

Yep. I am single and childless at 39 years old. Not exactly where I thought my life would be at this age, but I am learning to embrace it. While I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life, as I have gotten older it seems to have gotten so much harder to manage. Life as an ‘adult’ comes with more pressure to be a certain way, live a certain way, & feel a certain way…especially when it comes to getting married and having children. This pressure has created so much anxiety for me, that I have felt so disconnected from my current relationships. My anxious brain is always telling me “I’m not where I’m supposed to be in life and I’m going to be alone forever.” Well you know what? Why do I need to live a life according to everyone else’s ‘timeline?’ My anxiety is what keeps me from taking risks and actually meeting a life partner. So the more I worry about my ‘timeline’ the less emotionally available I become. Also, the pressure to have children in this society is debilitating

While it may be easier to have children at an older age these days, the unnecessary pressure from family, friends, and society isn’t very encouraging to women over 35. This pressure certainly doesn’t help women to move faster towards marriage and having a family. And if you’re a woman who feels like she was pressured into this type of lifestyle, then I hope you’re feeling fulfilled…because when women succumb to this type of pressure it’s probably because they have decided to settle. Many times, this type of woman settles for the life that friends, family, and society has painted for her and not the life that she may have chosen for herself instead. Well I am 39, single, childless, and while still learning my way, I am so grateful for the life that I lead. And I refuse to settle. 

So why would a woman decide she doesn’t want children? One, maybe she doesn’t want children…and that is ok!! Two, maybe she has a vision about her career that includes spending most of her time making only that a priority. Three, maybe it just hasn’t happened yet. There are probably hundreds of other reasons, but this has been my experience so far. Not only with my own personal journey, but also for my other 35+ single and childless friends. 

No matter what the reason, if you practice loving your life and yourself alone…you will always find fulfillment and love. Obviously, a career is important to many and there can be times when we go full force into our career for years because we feel this will be fulfilling. Or we have past relationships that leave us feeling hopeless. But as time passes, life goes by faster and faster. You start seeing your friends have children. You start seeing your parents age. You begin to realize that you don’t only want a family because “that is what you’re supposed to do.” You realize that true companionship…family…true love…is really what creates fulfillment. 

Now don’t get me wrong, family does not always have to mean marriage and children. If you are a woman who does not see marriage or children in her future, that is 100% OK! But my suggestion is to find family and connection in community. Family does not have to mean your own blood. Family can mean your best friends, your church community, your yoga studio, your support group. Family can mean so much more than just a husband and children, but you have to find connection with others. In the words of Joe Straynge, “Human connection is the most vital aspect of our existence, without the sweet touch of another being we are lonely stars in an empty space waiting to shine gloriously.” 

 

Bio:

Alison Seponara, MS, LPC is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice located in Lafayette Hill, PA. Alison specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness with women who struggle with anxiety related to a life transition & also works closely helping children with special needs (anxiety, ADHD, & autism). Along with her private practice, Alison has created an amazing social media brand all about how to heal anxiety from the inside out using holistic practices. Alison started her holistic jewelry business, Designs for Healing in early 2019 in which she designs and handmakes healing crystal bracelets and essential oil blends to help heal anxiety and other emotional blockages. You can learn all about her own anxiety healing journey and other tips & tricks by following her on Instagram at @theanxietyhealer. Alison also offers online anxiety healing courses which can be found at theanxietyhealingschool.comAlison’s mission is to help those from around the world feel less alone in their anxiety and offer awareness and education in mental health.

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Growing Up In The 1980s – Guest Blog

Written By: Leah DeMarest

Growing up in the 1980s, mental illness wasn’t something we talked about in our homes and in our schools. It was taboo and very much unknown to the general public. As a young child, I had developed depression and anxiety after my parents got divorced when I was just 5 years old. However, even though I showed signs and symptoms, no one knew that I was struggling with depression and anxiety; everyone just played my symptoms off as behaviors related to my parents’ divorce and the changes in my life the divorce had caused. I lived with my dad after the divorce. As time progressed, my mom was distant and failed to form a bond with me. This paid a toll on my mental health. I felt unwanted and unloved by her. My dad later remarried, and I loved this woman prior to the wedding; however, after the wedding it seemed she had changed. I was verbally and emotionally abused by this woman from age 12 to present time. This is where my mental health began to plummet. I isolated myself in my bedroom the majority of the time, (if I wasn’t in school or at my various extracurricular activities), so that I didn’t have to be around my step-mom. While in my room, I cried at the drop of a hat, sometimes so much that I exhausted myself and would fall asleep only to wake up to self-harm. I spent so much time in my room crying, sleeping, and self-harming. My body ached with headaches and muscle tension. I made my first suicide attempt at age 14, I made two attempts that year by swallowing a bunch of pills, and no one even knew that I did it. Age 16 I made another attempt, in the same manner. Also at age 16, I began dating my high school sweetheart. He knew I had problems at home and knew I went to therapy, but he was completely unaware of my self-harm and suicide attempts. 

When I was 18 years old, my boyfriend and I broke up. He was a great support for me, so this was the straw the broke the camel’s back. I just didn’t know how I would deal with all of my family drama and pain without his support. I then took a bottle of pain pills with a bottle of wine, lay in my bed to go to sleep and prayed to God that he would not wake me up. But I did wake up. I woke up with force. I violently vomited for several hours that next morning. My dad took my temperature and I didn’t have one; so he consistently asked me if I knew why I would be getting sick like this and not have a temperature. I felt like he knew, but I was too afraid to tell him what I had done because I didn’t want to let him down. My dad is an incredible dad. The best. All I want to do is to make him proud, and this would crush him. Finally, I decided to tell him. He instantly rushed me to the hospital. I spent the next week in ICU and the following week in the children’s mental health unit. 

My week at the children’s mental health unit did nothing for me. The following fall I started college. My high school sweetheart came back in the picture and we started dating again. However, it was different, HE was different. He was controlling, and emotionally, verbally and physically abusive. Because of my anxieties from failed relationships with my mom and step-mom and my low self-esteem related to my depression, I stayed with him hoping things would get better. I because of these past relationships with my mom and step mom, I was a people pleaser. I would do anything to please anyone, to do what they wanted me to do for them even if it meant I had to go out of my way, if it meant it was inconvenient for me, if it meant I exhausted myself, and even if it meant I lowered my standards for my life and my relationships. I began to cope with my mental illness and the things going on in my life with alcohol. Eventually my boyfriend left me; he got another girl pregnant while dating me and ended up moving in with her. Though, I continued on a path of reckless behavior. I drank to my hearts content. I participated in reckless, adrenaline-seeking activities. And I made all around poor choices. 

Eventually, I became tired of living the way I was living. I quit drinking. Found new friends. And began to focus on my college education. I was beginning to feel good again. Then I met Dustin, my now husband. I wasn’t interested in dating anyone at the time, so he had to try really hard to get me to commit. Eventually, I gave in. There was just no denying our connection. However, during the early years of our relationship we argued quite often. I didn’t understand it then, but my mental illness was getting in the way of being happy in a relationship. I was overly emotional about things, but when I became emotional and he would question me I would either get defensive or shut down and not talk at all. At times, I felt like I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t get the words to come out of my mouth. He took it as me being stubborn and not wanting to talk. I would shut myself in my bedroom, like when I was young trying to stay away from my step-mom, and tell him to leave because I just couldn’t talk to him right now. It was hard for him to understand my emotions and behaviors and this frustrated him. It frustrated me because it was hard for me to tell him. He knew about my past with my mom, step-mom, and high school sweetheart, and that when I was 18 years old I was diagnosed with depression due to the suicide attempt that put me in the mental health unit. But he didn’t link any of these behaviors or emotions with my past. He also felt like everyone has a past and that it is important to not dwell on it and let it affect you in your future; therefore, he felt like I was just dwelling on my past and should just get over it and grow up. He didn’t understand mental illness and was kind of under the impression that people who say they have a mental illness are using it as an excuse to be lazy or as an excuse for poor behaviors. He did try to be empathetic, but didn’t know how to talk to me when my symptoms were high. 

Eventually, after a couple of years our communication in our relationship began to improve; and I attribute this to Dustin as he was patient with me and gave me space when I was emotional or angry and let me come talk to him when I calmed down. I also think it helped that we formed a very strong trust in our relationship and this made my symptoms lessen. However, a few more years down the road, after everything had been going well for those years, I was physically assaulted at work. I sustained a concussion, a cracked lip, one of my eyes was swollen shut, bruised muscles around my rib cage, and several bumps and bruises. At first, I didn’t think that it had any effect on me. But after a month or so I started noticing my mood changing. I was overly fatigued, would get angry over small things, would cry myself to sleep, and even had suicidal thoughts. Finally, we realized the assault had put me into a downward spiral back into my depression and anxiety. I even regressed on my communication skills and started bottling up again. I went to see a therapist and a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist diagnosed me with major depression, generalized anxiety, and C-PTSD. She believed I had depression and anxiety since my parents’ divorce, that it worsened after the abuse from my step-mom, worsened again after the abuse from my ex-boyfriend, and then I developed C-PTSD as an adult and because I didn’t seek therapy as an adult, it all came back after the most recent assault.

After receiving this diagnosis, I tried to educate my dad and husband about my diagnosis. It was hard for my baby boomer dad to grasp his head around mental illness, but he was supportive and would ask me how I was doing with it from time to time. My husband seemed interested and supportive at first, but after a while, it seemed he went back to his belief that mental illness is not real and it is just an excuse for bad behavior. This hurt me to be living with and in love with someone who is unable to understand and support this part of me. This is the part of me that needs the most support, and he is not able to give that to me. After, I finished my masters in clinical psychology was the turning point in this struggle. My husband was able to read some of my college books. I shared my assignments with him. Everything I was learning we discussed how it relates to our life and my ‘behaviors’ (symptoms) and it was like it especially if there hasn’t been an official diagnosis-like me when I was a child. The general public don’t even typically know the signs and symptoms of mental illness, so they wouldn’t know what to look for or even how to help. This is why education is key. We need to educate others on mental illness/health. Without this education, we cannot expect our loved ones to understand or know how to help us or others who are struggling.

Bio:

Leah DeMarest is a licensed mental health counselor and certified alcohol and drug addiction counselor in Iowa. She is the founder and therapist at Flourishing Engagements in Urbandale, Iowa; CEO of Ed Ease Iowa; and a public speaker who speaks on mental health topics, mental illness stigma, bullying, and domestic violence.

 

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Does The Joker Further Stigma-Induced Stereotypes?

The Joker is a very good film but not a film for everyone…

It requires a high tolerance for grit and violence.  For those with mental illness, some of the actions of the protagonist could very well be triggering and upsetting.  Also, anyone expecting to have a direct to the Batman franchise you would be mistaken.

Seeing a film with the knowledge that a review is forthcoming can poison the experience.  Scrambling to keep track of all the characters, the best plot twists, clever allusions to the genre can distract how the film makes you feel.  Thankfully for Joker, I entered Alamo Drafthouse with no thought of sharing my analysis.

So instead of writing a full-on review, I’ll concentrate on how the film made me feel and what I think it got right and wrong.  The Joker and his ailing Mother are clearly suffering from mental illness (what diagnosis is not clear). The film was quite genuine in showing their daily challenges.  Joker’s slow descent from the bounds of society is prophesied by that society’s inability to treat and help him.

Buoying the sensitive story-telling are some outstanding performances.  Joaquin Phoenix should be now enshrined as one of our great actors (I fully expect an Oscar nomination here).  A lot of the subtleties of his performance ring true. Several scenes he would manifest a twisted torso that mirrored his tormented psyche.

The question everyone, particularly in the mental health space, is asking is whether the film is “accurate”, “fair”, and “balanced” or does it further stigma-induced stereotypes.  To address the issue you need to assess the shocking ending (I will not provide a spoiler here). The Director clearly does not waver and paper over the gutsy story with anything uplifting that ties difficult strands together.

Having come into the film with few expectations (I did know of some controversy), I experienced it as a “Hollywood” movie and found myself believing in the characters and engaged by the plot.  The Joker himself evokes an eerie sympathy that sustains your interest.

So do I think that the film portrays mental illness in a sensationalized or inaccurate way?  Does it further stigmatize the mentally ill? For the most part, I don’t think so. I think most will see this film as the story and actions of one deranged person.  If anything the clarion call should be for society to do better in treating mental illness so downward spirals such as this can be thwarted.

On a final note…if you’ve never seen the 1970s film “Taxi Driver”…get the DVD now.  There are several strands that mirror the Joker. And here I said no genre allusions. I hope you will excuse my indulgence.

 

  • Jim Leftwich, CEO. 

 

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