Stigma Fighters Fundraiser Mental Health Rocks Tees

sarah fundraiser

Our Mental Health Rocks Teespring fundraiser is back! Stigma Fighters is a mental health non-profit that has been featured on Psychology Today, Good Day NY and The Huffington Post. We are changing the world by allowing safe spaces in high schools and universities across the United States and Canada for students to speak about mental health. All proceeds from this fundraiser go to support the non-profit organization Stigma Fighters. Buy a tee! Here’s how to order: http://teespring.com/stigma-fighters

sffundraiser2          stigma fighters fundraiser

All of us at Stigma Fighters thank all of you for your support!

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Stigma Fighters: Wanda Kent

The Fighter. The Mother. The Healer.

I’m a 42 yr old woman with many past and current hurdles. I started a journey about two years ago to get rid of the old and start fresh no more medications no more sitting idle!

READY:

I didn’t have a great childhood, it was full of pain and heartache. I am a survivor of sexual abuse. The abuse came at the hands of close family members, one even raping me at the tender age of 15.  I didn’t over come anything, I drank it all alway. From the time I woke in the morning till I finally passed out at night, I drank. I partied hard and played even harder. If I could drink myself into an oblivion, I had a chance of forgetting what happened to me.

When I was 17 years old I was told that I was never going to have children. It was medically impossible due to polycystic ovary syndrome and high testosterone levels. I was heart-broken. The one thing I always wanted to become was a mother and to find out it was never going to happen, well it crushed me so I did what I did best at the time, I drank all the pain away. I worked and paid bills like everyone els did. Yes, even at 17 I was told you do not go to school you work so that’s what I did.

Many years passed, a long with them many boyfriends as well. One day I came home nothing out of the norm but I walked in the door and immediately got sick! My mom said,  “you’re pregnant” I told her that was absurd and she challenged me to prove her wrong. Just to be a smart ass I bought two pregnancy tests. The first one came back positive. I couldn’t believe it, I knew it had to be wrong, so I waited until the next morning and took the second test too,  it also came back positive. I was in complete shock! I went to the doctor’s office and they did their test and for the third time I had a positive result, but oddly enough the blood work came back negative. So the doctor called me in and we did an exam and sure enough I was four and a half months pregnant. I couldn’t believe it. I was in bliss. A  few months later Patricia was born happy,healthy and as cute as can be. Allan and I got married two years later.
Once Patricia was in school I thought maybe it was time I go back to school as well, so I did. I was hired as a medical office assistant shortly after completing my program. I was at that office for about six years then decided to change things up and switched jobs.

During this time I had gastric bypass surgery to help me lose weight and I had lost so much that  I couldn’t identify who I was anymore. My old coping mechanisms returned.  I started to sneak drinks after work.  Then it was sneaking drinks at lunch and after work, then it was all the time again. I had a new me, physically, and new job and I was losing control. I went and talked to my boss at the time and asked for some time off to get things back on track and he said no. I had no choice at that point but to hand him my keys and quit. I left there went and grabbed a bottle of booze and got drunk, I was mad, not at my boss, but at myself. What the hell was I going to tell my husband? Would he understand? Would he be supportive or not?

The next day I went to my doctor. I admitted that I wasn’t ok, I told him something’s wrong it’s the drinking, the weight loss and quitting my job. My doctor said I’d  be fine if I just take a couple of days to relax. I didn’t know what the hell was I going to do, so I did what I did best at the time and I drank, heavily.

I started to see things from my past. All of the terrible things that happened to me as a child and a teenager all came flooding back, and I couldn’t take it… I was screaming and no one was listening. I took a whole bottle of medications with the booze, phoned my husband and said, “I love you I’m sorry and good bye.” The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital. I was there for a week when they sent me home with absolutely no resources, nothing.

About a week went by and not only was I still drinking, but I was still suicidal. I thought to myself that this time I’ll make sure I don’t come out of it. I took all the pills I could find. I called Allan again to say good bye and I love you. The next thing I remember I’m at the hospital and I’m vomitting like crazy. I thought I was going to die! Allan said that when he got the call from me he had called my dad, the landlord and the ambulance. By time he got home the police where there and my 6 month old puppy was jumping on my chest to keep me breathing.
They put me in the hospital for eight weeks.

I was diagnosed with Major depression and Schizoaffective Disorder and PTSD. Wow hey this was my new life meds groups, meals, exercise then finally I was allowed to go home. Many years have passed since this happened, six to be exact and I feel better. It took me a long time to recover. I actually didn’t think it was possible but over the past two years I have most of my medications but a few. I’m back at school again, starting  a new chapter in my life, and the weight I gained from ALL the meds I was on I have finally lost enough to get back into jeans. I had to make a lot of changes and do a lot of forgiving. The biggest one was forgiving myself for not being there as a mother and wife during some of my crisis moments. I had a hard time allowing myself the time it took to heal, and to remember everyone has a past. I walked a different path than most. I took risks and they are paying off! I am a survivor! I no longer let others dictate my life. I take control and I make the choices I need not only for me but for my family.

I have one life that I almost lost because I was lost, but now I know who I am.
I am simply me! And it’s ok to have a mental illness and it’s ok to cry and have emotions. It’s also very important to remember to be true to yourself!

Live life enjoy everyday and remember to tell your loved ones you’ll be OK!

wandakent

Wanda is a happily married woman and the mother to a beautiful daughter. Her family lives in Beautiful British Columbia where she has lived since she was just two years old. She enjoys country music, reading and spending time with her family and friends. She has just returned to school and is looking forward to starting her new career.

Bell Let’s Talk Day 2015

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In 2010 Bell announced that it would be contributing $50 million to mental health related initiatives in Canada over the next five years. Today, January 28th 2015 Bell launched its fifth annual Bell Let’s Talk Day. What that means is that on top of the $50 million, Bell will donate an additional amount of money to Mental Health initiatives. This is where you come in. For every Tweet with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk Bell will donate $.05. If you happen to be a Bell customer, they will also donate $.05 for every text or long distance call that you make today.

This year’s campaign focuses on helping to end the stigma around mental illness, by engaging in conversations that break the silence. Encouraging people to be more aware of the language that they use when referring to mental illness, and making sure to educate yourself. When you know the facts, stigma doesn’t stand a chance.

Last year Bell Let’s Talk Day brought in 109,451,718 tweets, calls and shares and raised an additional $5,472,585.90 for mental health in Canada. Let’s surpass that today.

Once again, Olympic medalist and national spokesperson, Clara Hughes is leading the campaign with Michael Landsberg, Howie Mandel, Mary Walsh, Michel Mpambara and Stefie Shock on the Bell Let’s Talk team.

This year there is also an amazing social media team working with Healthy Minds Canada today. They’re tweeting up a storm with mental health stories and facts that are getting people talking. Two of these team leaders are Stigma Fighters! Our very own content manager and Stigma Fighter Marisa Lancione and Stigma Fighter Jean-Francois Claude, aka DysthymicDad. Make sure to check them out. @MarisaLancione and @DysthymicDad

Get your tweet on today, spread some love and hashtag #BellLetsTalk You can find out more at http://letstalk.bell.ca/

Stigma Fighters: Leea Swank-Hillis

My name is Leea and I am the 36 year old child of a parent that suffered from mental illness and the stigma that comes with it. This is a version of my mother’s story, from my perspective.

For my two sisters and me this story unfolded when we were around the ages of 7, 6 and 3. I am the oldest of us 3 girls and I can tell you with utmost certainty that the story that I tell is one that is most certainly different from that of my sisters. We all remember it just a little differently due to our ages,  our experiences with Mom, and how we saw other people treat her and us. However, we can all tell you a few certain facts that are the same:

Prior to her death her last label or diagnosis was one of Schizophrenic Bipolar Manic Depressive also known as Schizoaffective Disorder.

Her ultimate mind crumble came after my dad hit a moose and suffered an almost fatal brain injury among other injuries. Her world and ours, although we were too young to know it, crumbled at this moment and would never be the same again. This crumble would set the tone for years of crumbles to come. Often times different versions of suicide attempts sometimes landed Mom in and out of various hospitals if they were deemed to be serious enough of an attempt based on her previous history. We would find out years later that her first visit to Riverview mental hospital, the “big one” in BC at the time, was at the mere age of 11. Needless to say my mother’s life was never an easy one and she suffered an illness I would not wish on my worst enemy.

The main thing my sisters and my stories share is that she was an amazing mother who could do so many things given she was in the right state of mind. She loved us more than anything in this world and did her very best to try to be strong and normal. She gave us the essentials we needed to become good kind well-mannered young women, who would move forward from our experience and treat it as a stepping stone to being the very best we could. We still use those tools and her love to guide our lives now.

My version is long, so I will give you a snippet of my most painful experience along with an overlook of some of my most cherished memories that helped me cope with my mother’s illness.

From a very young age I remember being hushed and told to keep what goes on at home, at home, to put on a happy face and talk about good things. I used to think it was because my parents were private people. Now I know a lot of it was out of self-preservation and my parents hope to protect us from other people’s pity and most of all uneducated frightened people’s sometimes cruel behaviours. My most painful experience with this behaviour was when I was in grade 6. I went to a school friend’s home for a sleepover. The first night went great so I phoned and asked to stay another night. Later that morning as we finished breakfast her mom cleared the table and I sat while her dad asked me a bunch of questions. He asked me what my parents did for a living; we grew up in a small town so I’m pretty sure he already knew the answer. So like I had been coached by my parents I said” my parents are retired.” To which I was berated by another set of question that ultimately led to this 30 something possibly 40 something year old man telling me I was nothing but a welfare brat and that my parents were worthless lazy scum. At this point her mom came in and rescued me as I was in tears and my parents were called and I was picked up shortly after. Needless to say, that would be my last visit to her home and at school we no longer played together anymore. Maybe because she wasn’t allowed or maybe just because I was too embarrassed and scared. From that point on I was very careful who I told and what I said. I had friends, but very few knew what went on behind our doors and even fewer ever got the privilege of seeing the inside of my home, out of fear that they too wouldn’t want to be my friend anymore because my mom was “crazy.”

Now this is not to say there were not some incredibly wonderful people in our lives. My parents’ best friends took us in for months at a time over the years when one or both of my parents were too ill to take care of us. They treated us like we were their kids. We had our own room and beds and dressers, we could even have friends over. But most of all they made us feel safe, loved and wanted! I also had my best friend and her family. They made me feel normal. For me she made it so I felt like I could infiltrate myself into high school despite my worries of being found out and being punished for something I had no control over. These angels were there to guide us and celebrate our achievements and soften our wounds when our parents couldn’t. But most of all they made us feel normal and that “crazy” was an illness not a plague.

I like to think that things are different now and that the children of people with mental illness won’t suffer and feel alone the way I did as a child. Sadly I know all too well that this is not the case, yet. I like to think that if we can put more stories out like this, that soon people will react to the idea of mental illness like they would if they heard someone say I have cancer; with concern and compassion and not fear and judgment.

You would never tell someone with cancer “it’s all in your head, just get up and think positive and all of your problems will go away.” So why people need to say such things to someone who suffers with a mental illness I will never understand. I hope that in our near future children of parents with mental illness won’t have to hide that one time mommy went “crazy.” That these children can hold their heads up without fear of being found out. That people won’t flee out of fear because they think it contagious, and that healthy parents will let their kids play with the children of parents with mental illness. Knowledge will be our power to overcome this stigma!

Leea

Leea is a stay at home Mama of 2 beautiful girls ages 3 years and 11.5 months, and the wife of an amazing man who loves her despite all of her flaws and baggage. She is proud to say that she is the child of a mother who suffered from mental illness and that she too has suffered bouts of mental illness. Mental illness that she has encountered second hand and personally does not define but is only a small fraction of who she is and what she has to offer this world.

Stigma Fighters: Laurin M.

Who says you can’t live in the past. That’s only if you actually want to live. Truly.
So, the girl who could talk to a doorknob could no longer manage to string together four simple words, no less a phrase or two. What was happening? Was it a brain tumor? An infection? Countless doctors, medicines, and tests, and no one had the answer.

After a few weeks of falling completely apart, I was admitted to the 9th floor of the Barnes Hospital. Devastated. A mess. Most of all, I was really embarrassed. A conscientious student. A popular and well-liked girl. Now I was a random, young sick patient locked up in the psychiatric ward. Did I mention we were in Missouri? Might as well have been named Misery.

And here I am in a seriously unflattering light blue gown. I’m stuck behind barred windows. Could it get any worse? Well, at least I don’t have to write my exams this semester, was all I could think. Who knows if I’ll ever finish school? Lord knows the way I left, I may never be able to show my face at that university again. Hopefully I’ll muscle through.

Friends came to visit. Someone brought fancy chocolate covered pretzels from a lovely downtown boutique. Some days I still dream of those sweet treats.

More pills. More tests. Are they kidding with this? I was starting to feel what they would later call “high.” High as a kite, as a matter of fact. In retrospect, I was manic and loving every single minute of it. They let me out for good behaviour. I went to see a football game with parental supervision. One day we took a trip to watch hot air balloons. We even visited a botanical garden and then it was back to the ward.

Finally, I did such a good job convincing them I was well, that they sent me back to school. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I wrote papers with rapid speed and precision. I joined clubs. I formed clubs. I danced. I spent way too much money on items ordered from the TV in the middle of the night. I drove other people’s cars. I never asked permission.

I apologize. I was high. I was what they would one day call manic. At this point no one really knew what to do. Not one of the smart and sophisticated doctors had a clue what ailed me.

It was winter. I was cold. I was still wearing tight jeans and a white v-neck shirt. I was still in Missouri (Misery). Then they asked me to leave school. Could it get any worse? Maybe you shouldn’t ask if you don’t want to hear the answer…

My parents were sure the doctors in NYC were better. Wasn’t that how everyone felt about New York City stuff? So they dragged me across the country with the hope of finding some relief. Maybe even an answer or two? The best the doctors could determine at that point was that too much Prozac had been given (it was the 90’s after all) and this had led to a potential manic episode. Sounded like a lot of probably and maybes for my family.

Didn’t anyone have a darn clue?

More drugs, more doctor visits. Parking was expensive in NYC. The hallways were scary and the doctors were worse. I was sure I’d wake up from the nightmare my life had become. Honestly, it had to end sooner or later.

Eventually, we found a kind and warm doctor who seemed to nap through ½ of my sessions. Aside from her fatigue, she was able to put together a drug cocktail that appeared to work. We saw each other often, maybe 3 or 4 times each week. When I wasn’t with her, I was at the lab getting my levels tested. I was miserable, but things were looking up.

Fast forward and condense this saga, I received my bipolar diagnosis back in 1995. I still managed to graduate university on time, in spite of the fact that I had missed so much school. I begged my doctors and even had the amazing opportunity to take a term in Spain. Life had fallen right back to normal and things had never been more exciting. After Europe I secured a great job with Mercedes-Benz and my world carried on.

I’m not going to say there haven’t been ups and downs, some months much worse than others, but I will say that in spite of my diagnosis, I’ve still completed a masters degree, married the love of my life, and give birth to two of my most favorite people. I also run my own small business.

I’d be lying if I said the road was always smooth. I’d be lying if I said that some weeks aren’t a huge struggle for me. There are most certainly times when I can’t leave the house. Days when again, I can’t form sentences. And still after all these years, there are some mornings where I’d truly rather the day not start. Those are the days where I have to work extra hard to just get dressed for the day.
I’m pretty sure my kids were sent down from heaven to keep me safe. No matter how dark the days can get, I have to do my best to keep it together for those babies. Sometimes I laugh, because often those two are the ones who remind me to take my medicine at night. It’s as though at 5 and 9 they know a lot better than I do about how to keep our lives on track.

While I’d never ask to have this disorder, I don’t think I’d be the same without it. When times are good, I think and live with more clarity and creativity than anyone I know. Yes, the lows are awful, but learning to live through them makes me exactly who I’m meant to be.

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Laurin is a mom, wife, sister and a daughter who lives in Toronto. Her favorite things to do in life are travel, read, practice hot yoga and explore the world with her family. In between making dinner and lunch for her kids, she runs her personalized music company http://www.justforme.com

Stigma Fighters: Sarah S.

Reclaiming My Life

This past year seems to be about reclaiming my life and getting some control over my depression. I have suffered from depression since I was in my late teens although it wasn’t until I was 30 that I was diagnosed with depression. When I was in my mid-teens my mum was in a serious car accident that drastically changed our family and our lives. Among other injuries she suffered a head injury. This injury vastly reduced her thought process, concentration levels, and she lost the ability to filter out background noise. I’m not quite sure how to describe it but she went from being a highly intelligent woman that could talk circles around you to someone who could no longer read a book because she couldn’t remember what she read previously. If you interrupted her during a television show the rest of the show was a write off because she lost a chunk and didn’t have a hope in hell of filling in the blanks. She would also usually go ballistic at that point. Needless to say life became a minefield. There was lots of yelling and many arguments, lots of walking on eggshells, and a lot of confusion.

It was never really explained to us what brain injuries were like for a person. We didn’t know what to expect, what kind of recovery there would be, or if she would get better at all. We just kept waiting for her to get better but she never did. When I clued in to this I realized that my mother died in that car accident and I was stuck with this other person. And I didn’t really have anyone to turn to and talk about what it was like, couldn’t share the confusion and anger I felt. My older sister was living in another country, my dad wasn’t a one-on-one kind of guy, my grandparents weren’t exactly the lovey-dovey type of folk, and aunts were either estranged or just far away.

I guess this was when the low self esteem and self loathing started for me because I remember feeling like no one cared about me at that time. I remember times where I was just so incredibly sad and not really understanding why. I would go through these depressive states and not really have anyone to turn to for support. Over time I learned how to stuff things down, bottle those emotions inside. It was the only way I knew how to get back up.

I was in my early 20’s when family members started passing away. In a few short years I lost both parents, both sets of grandparents, and an aunt whom I was quite close to. I felt very alone in the world. I had no idea how to process things; I couldn’t cope and I was on my own. So I stuffed. I stuffed those pesky emotions right into that bottle. My analogy. I stuffed and moved on. But those damn emotions kept wanting to come back out, and when they got their way it usually resulted in me going into those dark depressive states. I would cry all of the time for no apparent reason. I couldn’t focus on anything, my thoughts raced, I felt highly agitated and twitchy, experienced a lot of self loathing, painful loneliness, a lot of hopelessness, and feeling a lot like I didn’t want to be around anymore. I never talked about it to anyone; I suffered alone. Somehow I managed to muscle through it each time, however the next time was always worse than the previous one.

Jumping ahead, I got married to the most wonderful woman in the world. We endured a lot of battles and hardships together but always came out stronger for it. But then we were thrown the mother lode of curve balls. After long years of suffering from chronic health problems and misdiagnoses, my wife finally found out what is wrong with her. She has Lyme Disease. Treatment was hell. She deteriorated quickly, had to take a leave of absence from work, and needed a lot of care. So I stepped up and did what I could to take care of her, continued to work full time, did extra contract work on the side (because we needed the money), did what housework I could in between. The stress of everything triggered another episode. I knew what was coming. Only this time it was different. This time I said “Fuck that! I don’t have time for this.” I had someone depending on me to take care of them. So I sought help.

I went to my GP. He set me up with some antidepressants and something for sleep. I also started seeing a therapist, which was a big leap for me as I have never done therapy before. The first time I saw a therapist was with my mother a very long time ago. It went very badly so I avoided that route for quite some time. But this time it’s going well. I quite like her. We jive well. It’s the first time I had someone to talk to openly and candidly. She started giving me tools to use during situations. I later learned through all the copious amounts of blog posts by fellow Stigma Fighters that it was CBT. My panic attacks started to reduce and I started to stabilize into a more mellow state. After about 8 months I’d thought I would take a break from the therapy as I was feeling pretty decent. That only lasted a few months before I started to slip back down. I was fighting anxiety on a daily basis, as well as a lot of dark negative thoughts, self loathing, and thoughts of suicide. It was very clear to me that I still had a lot of work ahead of me with my mental health.

So I bypassed my GP and went to my Naturopath to discuss a medication change. (Note: Naturopaths can write prescriptions in BC. Apparently that is not the case in other places) I really like my Naturopath. It really feels like she is in my corner and cares whether I get better or not. I’m also back to seeing my therapist on a regular basis which will most likely be a long relationship. I’m getting my exercise by biking to work and recreationally but I still have other lifestyle changes to make.

2015 is about reclaiming my life. My life needs to be lived differently because of my mental illness so I need to reinvent.

sarahSarah Sorensen is a 41 year old living in Victoria, BC. She is a UI/UX designer for a green tech company, and is amazed that they pay her to make pretty buttons and icons all day long. She has been married for 7 years and counting, no kids but plenty of fur babies to compensate. She likes to bike, exploring all the trails that the South Island has to offer. When she isn’t biking she is either hiking or binge watching Netflix while she plays video games. (Yes I do both at once).

Stigma Fighters: Byron H.

Trigger warning: Frank discussion of abuse and anorexia.

I feel ugly. I’m not actually ugly to a lot of people, I just feel like I am. It’s a feeling. It’s not a belief, or a mood, or a chosen perspective. Rather, it’s a complex series of filters that get between reality and the way I judge myself. See, I’m actually very positive about my self-image these days. But I grew up with a crossed eye. I also grew up being severely abused by a guy who tortured a baby to death.

As a child, I was the victim of ritual torture. At the time, I viewed the events of my childhood as normal. Just part of my everyday life. I was desensitized to abuse, and was present during my daily torture as part of a routine. I was beaten because I had a crossed eye. I was beaten because I was fat. I was beaten because I had a sunburn. I was beaten because I tried to stop other people from being beaten. I was beaten when I cried. I was beaten when I spoke. I was beaten when I played. I was beaten because I was simply alive, unwanted, and in the way.

I was starved, locked inside small places, and told I should just die; that I was useless. I’ve had my skin torn open by a whip made from a piece of lawn chair. I’ve had my face held over a barbecue grill. I’ve had jalapeño peppers shoved into my nose. I’ve been beaten with piñata sticks, fly swatters, chairs, wire hangers… I’ve had my cheeks pinched for hours until they were swollen and bleeding. The whole time I was called, “fat”, “ugly”, “queer”, “stupid”…

I was humiliated, molested, burned, frozen, drowned, punched, kicked, and forced to witness the rape of my mother. I’ve seen things. Terrible things that would break your heart. Things which after all I’ve said so far, are worse. But I just stood there. Never felt it. Waited for it all to end. But it didn’t. I was rarely afraid, at least outwardly. I was detached. I also never felt love as a child.

Ugly people don’t deserve love, I was told through action, again and again by everybody I knew or met. I was bad because I was ugly. I was abused, neglected, and/or segregated by my mother, my father figure, my brother and his friends, my peers in school, strangers at the store or at my mother’s church. I was surrounded by degrading sympathy, fear, or anger. People saw me and hid their children from me, whispering things like “don’t stare”. I was once thrown out of a church by a preacher, just because of the way I looked. He said I was an agent of the devil. To this day, people cross the road when they see me coming. I agree that I am an intimidating person. I’ve been told that I scare people. I’ve been rejected and ostracized; shunned and stigmatized.

So yes, I feel ugly. As a result of my upbringing, I developed two abnormal conditions: Complex PTSD, and Anorexia nervosa. This means two major things for me:

1. I usually feel like I’m being attacked.

2. I feel like my body can never be good enough.

MirrorBeastFast forward to me at 37.

Most days I wake up, and have to convince myself I’m not the ugliest person in the whole entire world. I have to convince myself that it’s better to eat than to starve. I have to regulate my exercise so that I’m not overdoing it. I have to convince myself that I’m not constantly under threat. I have to convince myself there isn’t a sniper waiting to shoot me when I close my bedroom curtains or bathroom blinds at night. In truth, I usually duck under the window and close things from underneath. I have to convince myself that sounds from radiators aren’t the voices of my neighbors conspiring to kill me in my sleep.

I don’t sleep well. I don’t have sweet dreams. I don’t inherently see it as friendly when you want to hang out with me. I have to scan through and analyze and determine motive in everything.

I like my body. When I say I feel ugly, it’s not that I actually believe that I am ugly. On average, I feel average. I work out. I train in martial arts. I’m funny. I have a nice smile. I care about others. In general, I’m attractive. Women who I think are drop-dead gorgeous have told me they think I’m hot. A lot of men who I think are well-built have said they wish they could have my build. I don’t see it. All I see in the mirror is a warped and monstrous form. I feel like a monster. My body isn’t the problem. The way I’m programmed to judge my worth is the problem.

Think about it.

Reflect.

That’s what we do. We look into a mirror, and reflect. We reflect on the image we see. Only we don’t see the bigger picture. We see whatever version of ourselves we wish to see, or are conditioned to see, or are afraid to see.

A mirror reflects a filtered view of who we are on the surface. We let that image move through our eyes and be shaped by our brains, our minds, our beliefs, our instincts, our conditioning, our prejudices, our politics and religions, our beauty standards, our stigmas and taboos.

What we actually see after all this filtering can never be the whole truth. It is an interpretation of one segment of a version of the truth. One version out of infinite potentials.

What makes it inside, what survives and gets soaked into the core of our being, is only ever a small part of the bigger picture.

That’s us, reflecting on ourselves. You can see how many things can get lost in translation. You can discern how many aspects can be missed; how many truths overlooked, and the infinite layering of falsehoods that can be added along the way.

And that’s just the surface. An image. Even if it were the bigger picture, it would still only be the surface.

I used to starve myself for days in order to satisfy my perception of myself. I wanted to be attractive. I wanted to not feel guilty about my appearance. I wanted to stop feeling like killing myself for being ugly. I HATED myself. I hated fatness and fat people, and my own fat body. Hated and feared.

I was prejudiced against myself.

And if I could feel that way about myself, even though I know better, imagine how much easier it is for me to think these thoughts about other people.

Reflect on how easy it is to develop and maintain unwarranted prejudice.

Imagine how simple it is, for somebody who’s never experienced mental illness to oversimplify mental illness. Imagine how convenient to categorize it, and lock it up somewhere out of view; and then throw rocks at it when it speaks out.

It is easy. And it is sad. We’re mean. Unintentionally mean. Or mean on purpose. Mean sometimes when we’re trying to be kind.

I want things to change. And that starts with my own prejudice. That’s something I can address in small ways.

I don’t expect to change overnight, but I think I can do better. I think we all can. I think each and every person, individually, can do better. Being kind to yourself is better. Dropping the stigma is better. Hoping and working for understanding is better. You don’t have to have all the answers. You can’t have them. But you can pay attention to context instead of generalizing.

Think about how hard it can be to understand yourself, and then apply that to your understanding of others. Is there a chance you’re misinterpreting? Isn’t it only fair to yourself to reevaluate?

I feel ugly, and maybe I am. Maybe you are too. But that will never be the whole story.

ByronByron Hamel is a writer, producer, award-winning journalist, and 80s Ninja, living in Manitoba, Canada. Follow him @byronhamel on Twitter.