The Great Glass House of Stigma

Mental disorders are one of the leading causes of illness and disability in our world today. In the United States alone, 1 in 5 adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives. With all of the research available and proven science available to us, how is it there is still such a stigma surrounding mental illnesses and treatment of such illnesses?

The answer to this question is both multi-faceted and complex, and in my writing, it’s my goal to break down these issues into easy to understand posts. I’ll also be providing links and resources for those seeking treatment/support for mental illnesses, whether for themselves or someone they love. I hope you’ll join me on my journey as I help reveal the real hindrances of present-day healthcare and the stigma tacked on to the terms “mental health” and “mental illness”.

I’m here to make sure people are getting correct and complete information with regard to mental illness. Additionally, as someone who has suffered more than my fair share of mental illnesses, I want to provide you with the resources I wish myself and my family/friends had when I was struggling.

If, at any point during my posts, there’s something I didn’t address or you’d like more information on, please contact me and I’ll be happy to do some research on it.

There is no health without mental health; mental health is too important to be left to the professionals alone, and mental health is everyone’s business. – Vikram Patel


I’m back!

Hi everyone. I know I’ve been MIA for a little while. There was a bit of fallout from my last post and I had to rethink and take care of some issues. But I’m back now and have lots of pretty cool things headed your way! Stay tuned.

ISO: Clarity for Younger Me

In one of my first posts, I gave a brief rundown of my life story, and in that, said I would go into more details later. Well, here are the details. If you’re interested in understanding my motivations behind blogging and reinforcing positive mindsets about mental health, here’s a taste of it. Before we begin, here are a few disclaimers:

  • I am in no way stating my own trauma is worse or more notable than anyone else’s’.
  • In posts where I mention my personal life, I will use the terms biological parents and adopted parents. My adopted parents did not legally adopt me, but took me in and assumed all of the responsibilities of an adoptive parent.
  • In no way is this post intended to belittle or degrade anyone mentioned. It is simply my perception of the things that happened in my childhood.
  • With its length, I know this post seems like a bill proposed to Congress, but I feel I should state there’s still more to the story. This is just all I can handle divulging at the moment.

My connections with my biological family members as a child were few and far between, with the main influences in my life being my biological mother and my grandparents on my biological dad’s side. My bio parents divorced when I was a baby, so I have no memory of any issues they may have had.

I’ve always thought of myself as a sensible and logical person. I’ve always been one to notice patterns in behavior (trends, if you will), and became fixed on finding the solution. First, I would notice the pattern. In my childhood, I first noticed them with mother, my grandparents, and myself. Let’s break it down for a moment here.

My Mother
I first started paying attention to my mother’s patterns when she lost a stable job with a health insurance company. The reason being is that she directly blamed me for losing this job because I caused her too much stress. I remember sitting in the passenger seat of the car thinking ‘Am I really that much of a problem?’ 

She would sleep any time she wasn’t working and only get up to use the restroom or eat. When she was working, she would quit or get fired from every job she got. When she was looking for work, she would always go to our local Unemployment Office.

I always knew money was a problem for us. We moved all the time – I actually went to 4 different elementary schools – and being the logically minded child I was, I knew you can’t pay rent without a job.

We had multiple pets at different times growing up. Before I moved out at the age of 16, we lived in a 1 bedroom studio with 3 cats. Being that my mom would only get up in the house to sleep and eat, things were in a constant state of disarray. All of our dishes would be piled up in the sink, there’d be very little food in the house, and cat hair covered everything. EVERYTHING.

My Grandparents
I also noticed a pattern with my grandparents. They were, and still are, highly religious. They are Pentecostal Christians (or “Old Testament” Christians, as I’ve also heard it described) who practiced legalism in their beliefs. Shorthand, this means men wore pants and women wore skirts/dresses. Also, women didn’t cut their hair, paint their nails, show too much skin, curse, or get tattoos. Those are just the basics. They owned their own church up until about 2 years ago, where my grandpa pastored and my grandma led worship and ministered as well.

I spent nearly every weekend up until middle school at my grandparents’ house. I always felt a strange sense of calm in their home, and my grandma would dote on me, as grandmas often do. Compared to my house, their house was like heaven. I know you feel the “but” coming, and trust me, it’s coming.

While I felt incredibly secure and loved, I also constantly felt insecure and afraid. My grandma would always make it a point to have serious discussions with me (where she discussed and I listened) about everything I was doing wrong in my life, and what I needed to do to make things right. To get saved. To go to heaven. Here were my basic instructions for doing so:

  1. Dress the part – stop cutting my hair, stop wearing pants, stop wearing any type of fitted or revealing clothing (especially when I started developing as a pre-teen), stop painting my nails, do not (under any circumstances) wear makeup
  2. Do my research – start reading the bible, listen to more talk radio (Art Bell on KMJ 580, anyone?), listen to all of the “Left Behind” series on cassette
  3.  Pray constantly and unrelentingly – pray for forgiveness for all of my sins, all the time
  4. Speak in tongues – this is a requirement of Pentecostal Christians, according to my grandparents, to be considered saved, and you won’t get into heaven unless you can

We would “discuss” all of the above every single time she felt the opportunity present itself (it presented itself a lot). She instilled in me a spirit of fear. I remember being in constant, paralyzing fear that I wasn’t saved.

In my teen years, it got to where would have panic attacks if I called my adopted family and my grandparents in the same day and no one answered, thinking God had come back and I had been left behind.

Oh, and I almost forgot. My grandpa hated me growing up. I never understood it. I cried so many tears over this. I learned only about 5 years ago he’s only my grandpa by marriage, which I suspect had something to do with it. Spoiler – my bio grandpa is worse than my grandpa in that if you’re not a classic car or super into classic cars, you’re a waste of time.

So, here I am, introspective little Sam (pictured above happily enjoying an Otter Pop – that’s me, so just add 5 or 6 years for timeline purposes). Seeing and understanding all of the above before I even had my first real crush. At a very young age, I understood that I was a problem, as were my thoughts, actions, and beliefs. Every time I would do something to try and make things better, it would either have little to no impact or make them worse.

I can say undoubtedly that I spent all of my formative years trying to be good enough for my mother and my grandparents.

With my mother, I kept to myself. I stayed in my room, listened to the radio, read tons of books, organized and reorganized, moved and moved and moved my furniture around. Anything to keep myself busy and not disturb her. As you can probably see, the parent-child dynamic was lacking at best. Her and I had basically 3 versions of our relationship.

  1. The one where I would keep to myself, as described above, for agonizingly long periods of time
  2. The one where we would have dinner together on the occasional Sunday night and watch Desperate Housewives while talking, getting along like normal people
  3. The one where we would have extremely horrible fights that would end in hysterical crying on my end

I wouldn’t touch any part of the house aside from my room until it got so dirty and gross that I couldn’t stand it. Then, whenever I was home alone, I would clean everything. You should know when I say clean, I don’t mean just picking up. I would deep clean. I’d do the dishes, sweep, mop, vacuum, clean the fridge, clean the cat’s litter boxes, get out the cleaners and go to town. I made myself into Cinderella. I have literally been on my hands and knees with a rag cleaning individual tiles.

When I started understanding our financial struggles, I would try and help by finding apartments for us or jobs for her, which only angered her. Nothing made a difference. 

With my grandma, I made changes to my appearance, my actions, my statements. I tried to read the bible, even though I didn’t understand it and it scared me. I would try with every fiber of my being to make all the changes she wanted me to make. I would pray and cry and beg God to let me speak in tongues and it never happened. It hasn’t happened to this day and my grandma has made it known she prays adamantly every single night for my salvation so I won’t burn for eternity in hell. I went to camp meetings, revivals, church camps, and attended faithfully every time the doors to their church were open. Nothing made a difference. 

With my grandpa, I tried everything in my power to not annoy him or be a burden. I took extra measures to clean up after myself, do quiet activities, and be the model grandchild. I did every single thing I could think of. Nothing made a difference. 

All of this seemed to happen simultaneously and I began feeling increasingly upset, scared, out of control, and resentful. None of this made any sense to me. I knew what the problems were and I was doing everything that made logical sense to solve them and nothing was working. Cue a constant state of extreme anxiety and depression that would go unnoticed and untreated for years to come.

Things finally reached a turning point when I was 16. Following what I considered to be one of the biggest fights my mother and I had ever gotten into, I was issued an ultimatum. She explained she was leaving the house for awhile (I assumed to just go on a drive), and when she came back, my mind was to be made up. I had 2 choices. The first was to continue living with her, and the second was to pack my things and move into the foster care system (side note: I’m really not a fan of ultimatums).

In the heat of the moment after she had left, I did a quick recount of my experiences with her throughout my childhood. I decided I was tired of it. All of it. I was tired of not feeling good enough, for not being able to make things better, for making things worse when I just wanted to make them better. I had my mind made up. And I started packing.

I’m not sure how everything that followed came about, and I’m not sure I want to know at this point, but when my mom came back, she loaded me and my stuff in the car. She drove me to my now adopted parents’ house and she left.

That’s where I’m going to stop, for now, friends. The purpose of writing this was to share a bit more about myself and my background with you, and I’m hoping I’ve accomplished that here. Writing things out that you’ve experienced firsthand is cathartic, in a way, but also incredibly painful. If you’ve read this far, thank you.

If you’ve experienced something similar in your childhood, or any trauma in your childhood that you’d like to talk about, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Anything sent to me will be kept completely confidential. I value your story and your experiences and know there are ways to use those things to help better understand ourselves and have a more peaceful future.

Have a wonderful weekend ahead, everyone.


Changing Mental Health, One Hashtag at a Time

I didn’t wait for rock bottom. I decided to dig my heels in and stop falling.”

When people think of social media, they automatically think a few things – viral posts, scathing celebrity/political gossip, and funny animal videos/gifs. A lesser-known community of people are those who participate in games on Twitter, known as hashtag games. There are tons of hosts and games, seemingly around the clock, mostly managed by Hashtag Roundup. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Amanda, host of the hashtag game #mandasheadgames on Hashtag Roundup.

This game, which she started in 2015, was inspired by the hashtag game she hosted, #theworstpartofdepressionis. “The response I got was incredible,” Amanda said. She explained when hosting that game, she hadn’t expected a response like that, and it prompted the creation of both a new tag game and a partnership – #mandasheadgames with Hashtag Roundup.

Over the past couple years, the game has evolved into something incredibly powerful – a platform for people to start a dialogue on the issues dealt with on a daily basis by someone struggling with mental illness.

Amanda herself has an incredible story. She was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and dealt with a horrible tragedy not long after that, losing her father to suicide at the age of 10. For years, she was miserable and angry. She didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Finally, after 3 suicide attempts, she found the strength to seek help and was prescribed Prozac.

“When I first got on it [Prozac], it kind of blew my mind. I felt like I was seeing the world for the first time. It was so eye-opening and amazing that I just wanted to tell everybody. I went 30 years thinking there was no hope.”

Our Biggest Contributors to Stigma
When asked what she thought the biggest contributor to stigma today, she responded it was really the notion of perpetuating the mindset of “it’s never going to get better”. A lot of people who struggle and have sought help, either with medication or therapy (and sometimes both) have had really negative experiences that have set them back even further. I, myself, have had those experiences with both medications and therapy. It gets to the point where you kind of ask yourself ‘Wow, can ANYTHING help me at this point?’

This mindset, while sometimes unavoidable, is one of the reasons stigma is still so strong because people tend to share their bad experiences more than their good ones. While talking with Amanda, she mentioned a lot of people seem to want something like an opiate that will have more of an immediate impact on their mental health. The thing it’s important to understand about treating mental illness is that it’s a process – things don’t change immediately. Most antidepressants, for example, could take 4 to 6 weeks to take full effect. It doesn’t help, though, that some people tend to experience positive effects sooner than others.

If you’re one of many who takes about the average time or longer to respond to a medication, you’re not flawed and you’re definitely not doing anything wrong. Our bodies are so incredibly complex, even down to our genes (different genes turning on and off again and creating different proteins at different times), and there is no exact science. It’s a worthwhile trip to take to find what works best for your health – both physical and mental.

When starting a new medication, keep these in mind:

  • Keep your doctor involved
    Your doctor will prescribe you medication they think will ultimately benefit you, based on your medical history and current life circumstances. That’s not to say all doctors are always right, because this part of medicine is not just a science. It’s trial and error.
  • Be honest with yourself
    You know your body and your mind better than anyone else. You’re the only one who will know truly how a medication is impacting you. Pay attention. If you’re forgetful, like me, try other methods (like writing it down).
  • Be patient
    Understand healing from or dealing with anything is a process. It does take time. Be patient with your body.
  • Keep a dialogue going
    Just because you’re seeking treatment doesn’t mean you should stop talking. Talk to your loved ones, your religious leaders, people you trust. Participate in games like #mandasheadgames. Find your community. It will make this journey so much more rewarding than you can even imagine.

More of a Buzzword than an Issue?
Another infamous contributor to stigma is the politicizing of mental health. “It’s become more of a buzzword instead of an issue,” Amanda said. The issue with discussing mental health politically is multi-faceted because the true issues of mental health are never addressed. A lot of people make satirical statements about it, like, as Amanda’s heard, “liberalism is a mental disorder”. When used as a tool for gun reform, it’s often used to deflect. She explained the key thing people need to understand is that mental health is not something that can be regulated.

I asked Amanda if she thought participating in tags (like #mandasheadgames) were a good way to spread awareness and start a dialogue about mental health. “Absolutely,” she responded. “Any way you talk about it helps.” She mentioned sites like Twitter are powerful platforms in that, with one simple tweet/hashtag, you can reach anybody in the world. This is a fantastic way to find your community, especially when you may not feel up to actually talking to people (I’m all too familiar with this one).

When it comes to understanding the reasons people tend not to reach out or seek help for anything mental health related, we talked a lot about control. No one wants to feel out of control, especially in today’s society. We’re constantly scrutinized about everything we have control over – what we eat, what we wear, what we say, what we tweet (and more). So when mental health is mentioned, it’s unsurprising there’s judgment. It’s like stating you have control over everything else – why not this?

“It’s like telling a blind person ‘If you want to see, just open your eyes!”, Amanda told me. And it’s entirely true.

One thing she said during this interview really stuck with me.

This incredibly powerful statement is truly telling of the inner strengths we all have, whether or not we acknowledge them.

“I didn’t wait for rock bottom. I decided to dig my heels in and stop falling.”

She believes this is one of the many reasons those affected tend not to reach out. While there are multitudes of resources at the press of a key/the tap of a screen, many people often use them as a last-ditch effort. See some common reasons explained below:

The “Rock Bottom” Mentality
I’ve been guilty of this myself. You think, ‘Well if it gets worse, I’ll talk to someone.’. You talk yourself out of asking for help because you really don’t think anyone will take you seriously, or that you’re just seeking attention, or even that others have had it way worse (insert many, many other excuses). And it’s true. There’s always someone who will have it worse than you. That is no reason you shouldn’t be able to get the help you deserve as a human being.

Mental illness inherently causes those affected not to want to seek treatment.
This is where loved ones come in. Common mental illnesses, such as depression, will most likely cause a person to not want to ask for help, even when it’s really bad. If someone you know struggles with depression, keep that dialogue open. Make sure they know you’re someone they can trust and who will take them seriously. Be their advocate when they feel they have no one.

Amanda’s advice for those who ask for help is to learn about what you’re going through and what it does to your body. That’s one of the main reasons I started this blog. The internet, as Amanda so accurately explained, is an ever-present source in our lives. The wealth of information at our fingertips is nothing short of amazing.

That being said, I know how hard it is to look up things like depression and read about what it is and how it affects you. Sometimes the sites are hard to find, and they don’t always provide accurate information (while the sites that are accurate read more like a textbook than anything else).

We both agree information about mental health should be easily accessible and understandable to the average person. If there’s any mental health topic you’d like more information on, please do not hesitate to email me! I want to share what you want to know.

I want to close today by creating our very own Mental Health Bill of Rights. This doesn’t just apply to folks in the United States either – this is for literally every person in the world.

MH Bill of Rights

If you need to ask for help, but you’re unsure, scared, or don’t feel safe doing so, please reach out to me. All conversations received through my blog remain entirely confidential.

If you’re on Twitter, please join Amanda, myself, Hashtag Roundup, and many others every Sunday at 9pm PST for #mandasheadgames. Also, follow @shutupamanda and @hashtagroundup for fun around the clock! Have a wonderful week ahead, everyone!

Why It’s Not “All in Your Head”

“It’s all in your head.” 

You’ve heard this said before of depression and other mental illnesses. I want to start this post out by stating I, myself, the owner of a mental health blog, used to stand behind this statement before I was educated on the difference between normal sadness and actual depression.

Depression is not “all in your head” as most would have you believe, though your brain does have a significant impact on your vulnerability and reaction to events/genetic pre-dispositions that leave a person susceptible to depression. Continue reading

What’s Your Story Going to Be?

Death comes as a reminder. It grabs us and shakes us. Opens our eyes and our focus is changed – shifted, revised. 
– Chris Evans, Playing it Cool (2014)

I’m writing today with a bit of a heavy heart, in honor of my grandma. As some of you may know, I moved back home to be her full-time caregiver as she struggled with end-of-life dementia and congestive heart failure. She passed peacefully on May 7, 2018, surrounded by loved ones. She made an incredible impact on so many people throughout her life, and I feel greatly honored to have been a part of it as her “bonus” grandchild for the last 12 years.

About a month before she passed, she said something profound to me that really made me think. She looked me in the eyes and told me “Everyone writes a story with their life. What’s your story going to be?”

My… my story? What does that mean?

We live under this insane impression that our lives are just happening to us, and we have pretty much no control over them.

That being said, I understand lots of things that happen in life are out of our control. It’s inevitable, really. From natural disasters, diseases, or traumatic experiences to simply bad decisions (I’m extremely familiar with the latter). While you can’t necessarily stop those things from happening to you (unless we’re talking about bad decisions – please learn from and prevent them whenever possible), you can control how they’re going to affect you. How they’re going to change/impact your story – negatively, positively, or even both.

I suffer from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, and PTSD. I’m a survivor of both child and early adulthood trauma, abuse and neglect. The list goes on and on and on and on. I feel like I’m constantly making bad decision after bad decision and not even realizing that until it’s too late. I feel completely and utterly behind where I “should be” at this point in my life. To the naked eye, I’m honestly a disaster. I’m unstable. I’m medicated. I’m unpredictable. I’m broken. I’m impulsive. I’m irresponsible. I’m crazy.

But here’s the AMAZING thing about all of that. This is my journey. These are my experiences. And this is my story. Every unpredictable, broken, and crazy piece of it. It’s mine in its entirety and it is beautiful.

Whatever you’re going through, whoever you’re dealing with, no matter how flawed you feel you are, you and your story are both amazing and completely yours! The things that have happened in your life do not define you. Other peoples’ opinions of you – their labels – don’t define you. Stigma does not define you. Hell, your medical diagnosis does not define you.

You are the author of your life. You are the author of your own story.

So, the question I have for you today is this: What’s your story going to be?



It’s OK Not to Be OK

One of the more positive aspects of our society today is the message of being strong in the face of adversity. We share a worldwide idea that no matter what happens, you can be strong and come out more fearless in the face of tragedies/struggles in your life. While this is an incredibly encouraging state of mind that I do support to an extent, I’m afraid it, in many cases, does more harm than good with regard to our mental health.

This idea – this mindset – is so widespread, well-known, and automatic to us that it truly causes people who may have reached out for help in desperate times to stay quiet, because they’re expected to stay strong. A lot of mental health issues have been overlooked or ignored for this reason.

Broken hearted woman is crying,silhouette,Valentines day conceptThis is why I’m writing today. I want to tell you – whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever has happened in your life- it’s ok not to be ok. It’s ok to ask for help when you need it. It doesn’t make you weak or broken to reach out.

As a matter of fact, it’s completely normal not to feel OK or to feel broken. It’s human nature. It’s your mind and body telling you there’s only so much you can withstand before you need to release it.

I’ve been blessed to meet many people, both online and in person, who have shared their experiences with me on the topic of mental health. One story shared by a friend last night really resonated with me, as I’ve recently gone through something similar. This is her story, names withheld for privacy reasons:

My teenage daughter has been experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts. She wrote me a note on March 7, 2018, asking for help. She’d been hiding her depression and anxiety from us for about a year. Since she told us, we have been active and trying to find her the help she needs. Medications are not a fun experiment during this hormonal phase of her life, but we fight the fight.

Fortunately for her, she doesn’t have to fight alone. 

Reading this made me realize a couple of different things. One, I commended my friend’s parenting because her daughter felt safe enough to be open about what she was struggling with. Now they can make sure she gets the help she needs, and she has the full support of her family behind her. Because of the way this friend handled her daughter being open with her, she will feel comfortable doing that in the future if she needs to.

Another heartbreaking aspect, though, is one of the things that really prompted this post. She had been struggling for a year before feeling able to ask for help. I struggled for 8 years before feeling comfortable enough to be vocal about my struggles with depression and anxiety before asking for help. In both of our cases, once we were vocal and brave enough to be honest, our worlds were opened up to an entirely new way to deal with these mental health issues, and while there is still an element of self-guilt (we should know how to handle this ourselves without asking for help), our families have consistently let us know it’s ok to talk about this.

That being said, I want to take a minute to say it’s definitely normal to want to hold feelings in. In some situations, it’s healthy too. Hold it in if you need to. Have that alone time. Listen to music that makes you feel better. Draw, paint, sing, play hashtag games on Twitter – whatever you normally use to cope. But when it all starts feeling like too much, like you’re caught in a riptide and hit the surface for even one breath – when it feels too heavy to even move – find the strength within to say something. It’s there – believe me.

Even if your saying something is like my friend’s daughter above, who wrote her parents a note explaining what she was feeling. However you’re able to reach out and talk to that trusted someone, I can guarantee you it’s worth it. There is no wrong way to ask someone for help or support.

What I want to resonate with you today are these things.

Honor your limitations.
Instead of adopting the mindset that no matter what happens or what we feel, we always have to have this unwavering strength to save face, let’s change the way you think about it: If you’re able to be honest about how you feel and what you’re struggling with, you’re much more strong than someone trying to hold everything in always to appear strong. The problem with trying to appear strong to everyone else by holding everything in is that we’re all human, and eventually, we will break. Someone I met recently online said it best: honor your limitations.

Be stronger together.
Being truly strong starts with honesty. Honesty with yourself, and honesty with the people you trust and/or a mental health professional. In my experience, it’s usually easier to find someone you trust to talk with first. If you need someone to talk to or don’t know where to start, please contact me. I’m here for you.

Lift each other up.
I’m very familiar with the use of satire, sarcasm, and cynicism we use daily in real life and on social media. It is a fun and quirky way to express your feelings and gain likes/comments/RTs/followers, but this is not the tone we want to use when talking with those we care about.

For no reason today, or without looking for anything in return, say something genuinely kind to someone you care about. Say something kind to a stranger. Lift them up for no reason. In a world filled with communication at the tap of a screen, you’d be amazed how many people crave that kind of personal interaction with others and/or people who feel like they’re fighting the fight alone.

Offer support where it’s needed.
If someone you know comes to you looking for support, listen with purpose. Offer them your support and if you’re not able to help them, look into getting help together. If you know someone who needs help but doesn’t know where to start, or you don’t know how to help them, contact me. I’ll help point you in the right direction.

Check in with a friend just because.
All of us have a friend or two (or more) we know struggles or has seemed off lately. Reach out to them today just to see if everything’s ok. It could be a call, a text, a PM/DM, an email… Just be sincere. Let them know you’re here for them if they ever need to talk and that they’re not alone. You’d be amazed what difference a message/call like that will make in a person’s life.

Instead of giving off this bogus facade that we’re always strong, happy, healthy, funny, and otherwise always OK, let’s honor our limitations – honor ourselves. And let’s show this world what we’re really made of. We are stronger together.

Beyond the Media: PTSD in Survivors of Mass Shootings

In the wake of all of the seemingly endless and horrific shootings that have occurred lately in the world, I wanted to start by talking about PTSD in survivors of mass shootings. The National Center for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) defines it as a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.

PTSD can be very debilitating to live with, and any victim of trauma can be affected by it. PTSD contrasts other disorders because it is strictly trauma-based. War veterans and victims of sexual assault are very likely to experience PTSD symptoms; however, the lesser talked about demographic (once the media quiets down) is survivors of mass shootings. Let’s talk about the basics of PTSD for a minute.

Symptoms of PTSD aren’t necessarily consistent and will vary per person. Some people experience symptoms directly after the event/experience, some have symptoms that come and go, and some have symptoms that don’t present themselves for months or even years after the trauma. The four main symptoms of PTSD are as follows:

Reliving the event
Memories of a traumatic event can present themselves at any time, with or without warning. Some symptoms associated with this include nightmares, flashbacks (feeling like you’re going through the event again), and triggers like certain sounds, sights, and smells (i.e. a car backfiring, news reports).

Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
You may avoid people or situations that remind you of the event, even sometimes going as far as to try not to think or talk about it.

Negative changes in beliefs and feelings
The way you think about yourself and others may change as a result of the trauma. For example, this may cause you to:

  • Not have positive or loving feelings toward people
  • Avoid relationships
  • Forget parts of or all of the event
  • Have extreme trust issues, like thinking no one is to be trusted

Feeling keyed up (also known as hyperarousal)
You may feel jittery, on edge, always alert and/or on the lookout for danger. This may cause you to be easily startled, have trouble sleeping, have trouble concentrating, or always want your back facing a wall when in a public place.

If you are experiencing these symptoms for 4 weeks or more, find they’re disrupting your work and personal life, or cause you great distress, you may have PTSD. It is possible to get professional help to manage/deal with the symptoms by seeing your doctor or a psychologist.

This is not, under any circumstances, a political post, and I will not comment on gun reform/control. I just know, based on the wide number of people impacted by these shootings, this is something that needs to be talked about. When innocent people are witness to or injured by mass shootings, is there enough support out there for them? Local agencies like

In my research, I’ve found a couple amazing resources:

The Rebels Project, whose mission statement states they seek to embrace, support, and connect survivors of mass tragedy and trauma by creating a safe environment to share unique resources, experiences, and provide education surrounding the varying effects of mass trauma.

The Red Cross also offers a free Disaster Distress Hotline that can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-985-5990 or by texting “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

If you know of any other resources available to survivors of mass shootings, please let me know, and I’ll update my post accordingly.

I have a personal tie with mass shooting survivors, as I was witness to a shooting in my workplace a few years back, and was only a few feet from the shooters. Now, it still seems logical for people to at least mildly understand people who were witness to and/or injured in an event like this would be traumatized. But for some of that, the trauma is lasting. In my case, in particular, PTSD didn’t rear its ugly head until 5 years down the road, in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting.

The following is my recounting of the shooting to which I was a witness in 2012. I did provide a trigger warning just in case, as it is a sensitive topic that even triggered me to write about.

TRIGGER WARNING: Retelling of Experience in Active Shooter Environment

The morning following the Las Vegas shooting, I woke up earlier than normal, and instead of laying in bed and pushing snooze another 12 times, I got up. I’m not sure why this morning was different. I got ready for work and got a cup of coffee, and something in me told me to turn on the morning news. I hardly ever watch the news anymore, because more often than not it’s one heartbreaking story after another about the madness and cruelty of humankind or the biased political agenda of whatever news network is airing stories of the most recent scandals. Other than the weather (which is usually less than accurate) and the occasional heroic tale of an everyday person beating cancer or rescuing a child from a tragic situation, it’s all negative.

Regardless, there I sat, with the remote in my hand and turned on the TV, flipping through the channels until I saw a local news network and put it on. Immediately, my screen was filled with images and videos of what would turn out to be the most deadly mass shooting the United States had seen yet. My heart dropped into my stomach. I watched as live footage of the shooting from different cell phones was played, and survivors were being interviewed by reporters, all of which were understandably visibly shaken and terrified. Recounting what would most likely be the most traumatic thing they’d ever experience.

As I sat watching this and sipping my coffee, I was in a daze, waiting for it to be over, but knowing it wouldn’t anytime soon. This story would be the focus of every news network in the nation for weeks – months, maybe. Reluctantly, I turned off the TV and went to work as normal.

The next few days passed in a blur. I went to work, came home, watched the news, and went to bed. Then woke up and watched the news again. Each day my heart broke more as new information about the shooting was revealed. A few days into this pattern, I started wondering why in the world this was impacting me so heavily. Yes, it is a tragedy, and I should be feeling shocked, heartbroken, and enraged for both the survivors and those who lost their lives at the hand of a mentally unstable person with a powerful weapon.

And then it hit me. It was like in those cartoons I watched as a kid when a character randomly realized something and a lightbulb appeared above its head, lit up, although (of course) there was no source of power for the bulb itself. I suppose, in a way, it’s a metaphor, because your brain is the source of power for the bulb and it’s powered by thoughts coming together after everything being muddled for a period of time.

On January 27, 2012, one day before my birthday, I was working at our local mall when an active shooter situation occurred. Suddenly, my reaction to the most recent shooting makes sense. I thought, Is this PTSD? It can’t be. That was… so long ago.

Then I started questioning my own memory of what happened. Are you sure that really even happened? What if your brain is just looking for a way to reconcile this horrific event and its created this fictional tragedy so you’re now the victim? I started to get uncomfortable with the flowing thoughts, and so I pulled out my computer and started doing some research. I entered very simple search terms in Google and the results came up quicker than I’d hoped.

Two wounded in Visalia Mall shooting; suspects captured

Trial underway in Visalia Mall shooting

Men given life sentence for Visalia Mall shooting

It did happen. I wasn’t imagining things. As soon as I saw those titles, I was flung violently back to January 27, 2012. A day before my 20th birthday.

I had began working at JC Penney in May of 2010. On this day, a Friday, I was scheduled to work. Most of the time when I took my lunch breaks I’d leave the store and get food at the mall’s food court, which was adjacent to JC Penney. Today, though, I was shopping. I was in the women’s department, which is right next to the entrance to the mall. I came across my coworker, Paloma, who was still working, but we started talking. I was shopping, she was cleaning and we just chatted. A few minutes into our conversation, I heard a few short pops. I paused, then looked at Paloma, whose expression showed she heard them too.

I knew the store was undergoing some construction for one reason or another, but I thought they’d finished. ‘Who’d be using a nail gun right now?’ I thought to myself. All of these thoughts, though seemingly calculated and inquisitive, took place over just a few seconds. In my mind seemed like minutes. I’m not sure if I said any of that out loud to Paloma or not. I don’t think I ever had the chance.

By the time I looked back over at Paloma, her face was unreadable. Out of my peripheral, I saw movement – quick movement – that wasn’t there before. People pass leisurely through our store typically, unless they’re stealing something, and even then sometimes they’re leisurely about it. My head whipped to the right, toward the aisle that was connected to the mall’s entrance just a few feet away. What I saw then is when everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Crowds of shoppers were flooding into the store, unorganized, panicked, in uneven clumps. You couldn’t tell if anyone was shopping in groups or by themselves, it was so unorganized. The panic in the air was almost palpable.

Maybe there was screaming. I’m not sure. I can’t remember hearing anything after the gunshots. It’s like adrenaline took over because the flood of people surging through our store was looking for the nearest exit, “every-man-for-themselves” style. 

Paloma and I looked back at each other and I had a realization – those pops I heard were gunshots. They sounded like a nail gun probably because the shooter had a silencer or the acoustics of the mall made the sound of the shots echo in a strange way.

The look we shared was one of mutual understanding – we needed to run, and we needed to run now. We turned on our heels and bolted further into the store to the nearest exit through the men’s department. Neither of us ever agreed we’d stay with each other, but we did. Once out of the store, we ran into the parking lot and hid behind a car, out of sight of the store.

I remember we talked, but I don’t remember what was said. I also remember a woman drove into the parking lot and turned down the aisle where we were hiding. She saw us and our I’m sure panic ridden faces and slowed down. As soon as she rolled down her window, I said something to the effect of ‘You don’t want to go in there right now, we just heard a ton of gunshots’ but I can’t even remember that clearly. She was filled with a visible myriad of emotion, thanked us, and hastily drove out of the parking lot.

We were probably only hiding behind that car for about 3 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. I looked at Paloma, and I told her my boyfriend’s parents’ house was just a few minutes walk down the road so we could go there. But then, somehow, the logic part of my brain kicked in, and I said to her ‘You know what.. we’re going to have to go back inside. The managers are going to be doing a headcount and they’ll be looking for us.’

I could tell by her reaction that is the last thing she wanted to do, and I was on the same page. We slowly and reluctantly walked back to the entrance to the store and stayed right by that exit once inside the Men’s Department. Everything continued to pass in a blur. I picked out that none of our staff had been injured, but some people have, and the suspects were on the loose. The only other thing I heard is that they were closing the store early and we were all free to go.

Now, my story is one of few that are mostly unheard of, and there were injuries, but no tradgedies. Regardless, feelings of terror and helplessness were still similar. I actually had completely forgotten about the events of that day until I saw the footage of the Las Vegas shooting. Once my symptoms started occurring, I was experiencing intense anxiety over every little thing and constantly looking over my shoulder. Some people in my condo association set off fireworks one night and I went into fight or flight mode. I would jump practically through the roof anytime anyone approached me from behind. There’s much more, but those were the main symptoms that prompted me to seek help from a psychologist. That was the best thing I could have done for myself. Since everyone copes with trauma in different ways, I had to (still have to) find ways that work for me, which sometimes includes altering what I already do for myself in the way of self-care.

It’s just one example of many that the way PTSD symptoms are displayed cannot be measured except by the severity and frequency of when they occur. To this day, I still deal with symptoms of PTSD that I have yet to learn to manage. I’m incredibly thankful for the friends, family, and professionals who have helped me through my experience.


Friends and Family of Mass Shooting Survivors

If you know someone who is a survivor of a mass shooting, please be cognizant of what you say to them. Be aware of mental health first aid. Understand that just because the traumatic event is over does not under any circumstances mean the trauma is. Many survivors of mass shootings watch others, even their friends and family members, get injured or killed because of these shootings. They themselves may have suffered injuries as well.


There are also many free courses online for providing assistance to people you know who have gone through traumatic events like this, such as this site.

I just want survivors of mass shootings (or shootings in general) to know:

  1. I see you
  2. I hear you
  3. I understand (to the best ability I can) what you’re going through on an ongoing basis

Please do not ignore symptoms of PTSD. If you think you’re experiencing symptoms, but are scared or unsure, try talking with someone you trust first. But most importantly, please know you are not alone. If the resources I listed above won’t work for you, or you need help finding a hotline or doctor/psychologist/counselor near you, please contact me and I’ll gladly help you find something in your area.

Also, remember a lot of self-care is necessary to manage PTSD symptoms. A great article on to read is 5 Self Care Tips for Abuse and Trauma Survivors. This site is a domestic violence site primarily, but their self-care tips apply to trauma survivors in general.

Love, understanding, empathy, and compassion go a long way in the process of dealing with PTSD. We can’t change the actions of the people around us, sadly, but we can, as survivors, get through these times together. You are never, ever alone.


My Abbreviated Life Story

Before I begin dissecting mental illness, our world’s lack of resources for mental health care and the terrible stigma associated with it, I thought I’d give you some background on what I’ve dealt with throughout my life. Additionally, I’d love for you to take a moment to take this survey I created about present-day mental health. It will provide me with a lot of valuable information to use in my research and give me an idea of what you would like to know more about.

*This will be a fairly LONG post. Feel free to read if you’d like. I just wanted to give you some background on my experiences.
**I spoke with my biological mom prior to posting this and have her full permission to share what I’m sharing. 

My childhood was hard – not as hard as others’ that I know of or will know of – but for me, it was hard. I was raised in a single parent household, while my father was mostly absent. I could count a handful of times I saw him throughout my entire childhood. My mother had, unbeknownst to me, experienced an extremely significant amount of neglect, trauma and abuse as a child. The experiences she’s taken the time to share with me were nothing short of horrific. These experiences were what shaped her life and mental health into what I witnessed as a child, and, as expected, there was a lot of toxic spillover.

Throughout my childhood, my mother focused on not bringing negative influences into my life (like drugs, alcohol, or strange men); however, she was dealing with a significant amount of depression, anxiety and PTSD that had gone completely untreated. There were countless days where her depression was in control and I felt helpless to do anything but watch. It wasn’t until I became an adult that she found access to adequate care and began dealing with the things that had happened to her.

It became intrinsic for me to be increasingly responsible and act as an adult would when my mom would go through these episodes (which was often). As a result, I ended up growing up long before I should have. Most of the time, I felt as if I was caring for both myself and her, and it quickly caused me to lose respect for her. I was tired all the time and could only express/release my anxiety by cleaning obsessively. Because of the things I went through with her as a child, I developed depression and intense anxiety that went untreated because my mom was dealing with so much she couldn’t see/handle it and I was not able to recognize it. I also developed a case of OCD, which I used frantically in stressful situations to gain some mild sense of control.

Her and I would constantly argue and it personally felt as if there were more bad times than good. During my childhood, verbal abuse and neglect was common, whether intentional or not. Every so often, borderline physical abuse was an issue. There were constant power struggles. Constant fights. I will go into a little more detail on these issues later.

I had both positive and religious influences in my life by way of my dad’s parents. They were/are devout Pentecostal Christians. For anyone who’s unsure of what a Pentecostal Christian is, go ahead and take a quick look at this Wiki page on legalism. While their influence was overall positive, I was raised in an environment that I was never good enough and I was always on the path straight to hell. I became extremely fearful of the rapture and even went into full-fledged panic attacks if I couldn’t get ahold of someone I considered “saved” for a period of time.

They also had serious marital issues that have only recently come out and bared their ugly heads. My grandparents were very critical of the way I dressed, who I hung out with, what I read, what music I listened to… At one point, when I was a pre-teen, my grandma accusitorily told me I dressed to make my grandpa lust after me. It was then I realized I needed to get some distance from them, and have.

In 7th grade, I bonded with my now best friend/sister of 16+ years and we spent weekends together from middle school through the end of high school. She was there for me during some of my most traumatic experiences in my childhood and I hers. I’m happy to say even through the ups and downs I’ve experienced, she has been a constant in my life.

At the age of 16, my mom and I got into a would-be life changing fight, during which I was issued an ultimatum: I could either live with her or I could choose to go into foster care.

I was in such shock hearing the words that had come out of her mouth as she stormed out the door to give me time to decide. Being the teenager I was, and with the experiences I’d had, I angrily decided I was sick of it all and done putting up with it. I started packing my things. When she came back, I got in the car and she started driving. We ended up at my ex-boyfriend’s parents’ house.

A little backstory on my ex:
We started dating when I was 14 and had broken up fairly recently and amicably because he was 2 years older and moving away to go to college. Because of the issues with my mom, during our relationship, I spent the majority of time with him and his family at their house, church, and family functions. I was taken in as one of their own and consider them to be my adopted family, although it was never finalized.

Oddly enough, when we broke up, I was surprised how welcoming his family still was to me. I still spent ample time with them and our bond strengthened. I’m still a part of their family to this day, and there have definitely been hard days with my ex, but I applaud his patience and open-mindedness in all of this. He’s now happily married to an amazing woman and they have 2 beautiful children together. We’re still learning how to address this odd relationship dynamic, but we’re just taking things a day at a time.

Anyways, my mom dropped me off at my ex-boyfriend’s family’s house, where I would live while he was away at college until the age of about 17. It was a definite adjustment as I came to live in a house with 2 parents and a brother who drove me insane (love you, Joey) and a much more balanced home environment.

Eventually, I needed to move out, and proceeded to live with my high school drama teacher and then a family from our church. In all situations, I rebelled in some way or another, became distant, avoided people, stopped going to church. I felt so truly alone and unstable. Finally, when I started college, I moved in with a few roommates from my choir class – 3 guys (2 gay, 1 straight). We partied, as most college kids do, and I got a “genuine college experience”. And then I got pregnant by one of my roommates and dropped out of college.

Now, because of the dynamic between my mother and me, as well as my unhealthy relationship with any immediate family members, I developed an intense adverse issue with forming healthy relationships with others. I still struggle with it to this day.

My son is now 6 years old and incredibly intelligent. He’s also extremely stubborn, but the light of my life. I can’t imagine life without him. His father and I had an on-again, off-again relationship for about 8 years, the last 2 of which we were married. We very recently separated, and are in the process of going through a divorce. When I got married, I was not sure of who I was or what I wanted out of a committed relationship. It’s very hard and upsetting to admit that out loud. That being said, I’m a very big advocate to being grounded in who you are before you commit your life to another person. Marriage is never something to take lightly.

In late summer of 2017, I decided, as an escape mechanism and a “last hope” to save my marriage, that it would be a good idea to move out of state to develop a relationship with my estranged biological father. I found a job with an east coast-based health insurance company and we left. I already knew I dealt with mild depression and anxiety and thought I coped pretty well without professional help or medications. Once I got to Ohio, though, I began therapy for anxiety after the shooting in Las Vegas happened.

I learned through therapy I had repressed to the point of completely forgetting about my involvement in a shooting at the mall I worked at in early 2012 and I was experiencing latent side effects of PTSD, as I had never dealt with the situation (more on that later).

Additionally, I realized soon after I got to Ohio I had a completely fairy-tale like idea of what my relationship with my biological father would be like and was quickly disappointed. In my short career at the insurance company, I began befriending a co-worker who was in just as unstable of a place as I was, and was the sole witness to her attempted suicide. That threw me into a spiral of extreme depression and anxiety. I ended up going on leave at work and started weekly therapy and an anti-depressant. During this time, I was also having escalated troubles in my marriage.

My son, my husband and I moved back to California at the beginning of April 2018. It was a move that needed to happen for many reasons, and my eyes were opened throughout the 8 months I lived there.

I’m currently a caregiver for my adopted grandma who has dementia and have my son every other week. His dad and I are on amicable terms, which is nothing less than a blessing as we all adjust to our new lives. Over the past 72 hours, my grandma’s dementia has gotten significantly worse, and her prognosis is looking grim. It’s a very hard time for my adopted family.

I’m telling you this story to say this: I have a personal understanding of what it’s like living with a mental illness, both detected and undetected. I understand how extremely important it is to address any mental health issues you may be struggling with in whatever way you can so you can live your best life. What it’s like to not have adequate support or resources. What it’s like to feel like you’re drowning in your struggles. And I am here for you.

If you ever feel totally lost, alone, or just in need of general support, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll help you find support in your area. I want to make sure you understand how vital your existence is and that you’re never alone in your struggles.

Look for my upcoming posts based on the survey responses of people from all around the world on the various topics of mental illness in our personal lives and the healthcare industry! As a reminder, the link to the survey is at the top of this post.

Much love to all on this Friday afternoon!