stitching out stigma


In the mid 1990s, I started having severe panic attacks.  It’s tempting to think of that as the first time anxiety kicked my ass, but looking back at my childhood, I strongly suspect this would be a very naive assumption on my part.  Still, it wasn’t until my early 20s that I discovered what it’s like to be out of control of one’s body and brain, hyperventilating until my lips turned blue and all I could think was, ‘It would be so easy to stop breathing.’  I learned that my version of ‘fight or flight’ was to try to leap out of cars to escape whatever trigger had set off my most recent fit of panic.  At its very worst, I was having panic attacks several times a week and exhibiting symptoms akin to MS.

I learned that therapists – at least back then – were not inclined to believe one’s self-diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.  I argued with my therapist until he finally went over a list of symptoms and reluctantly admitted that I was probably right…so hey, do you want medication for that?

I said no thank you and I figured out ways to live with this inner tension.  It’s like having a particularly harsh inner barometer.  You don’t dare let yourself get too stressed out, because if you do? Bam, you start shaking and you can’t breathe.

I’ve spent years at this point getting this under control.  For the most part, it manifest in small ways now, like night terrors; or, if I delay in answering an email or responding to a voice mail, the steadily increasing levels of anxiety about that make it very difficult to ever respond.  (When The Bloggess talks about her repeated decision to just open a new email account because she can’t deal with what she’s not responded to?  I can see why that would be tempting!)

There’s so much stigma about depression and anxiety.  People have criticized me for being at all open/public about my struggles, saying that if they were hiring managers, they would never hire me.  I’ve lost friendships because, at my worst, people have found it hard to watch that struggle and not be able to help.

Still, I’m open about it because I think it’s important to talk about these things.  The Bloggess does it brilliantly.  So does Wil Wheaton.  And their posts have helped me, and so I hope that I might help others as I learn to help myself.

Enter Stitching Out Stigma.

A woman in the UK, Natalie,  came up with the idea of a quilt project made up of cross stitch and embroidery squares created by people dealing with varied mental illnesses.  Due to Facebook, Twitter and varied articles in varied magazines and newspapers, that ambitious thought extended to people internationally, and it was through that network of articles that I heard about the quilt last summer.

Most of the participants are in and around the UK, but I really wanted to be a part of this project…in part, I wanted to do it as a nod to the Bloggess, whose words have helped me so much.  So I decided to use the quote she, and Wil, and so many others use on Twitter..


depression lies

The design isn’t exactly what I envisioned, and if I ever actually mapped things out before I started stitching, it would have worked out better, but…la, there it is!  I sent it off to England and I waited nervously to hear if it arrived safely or not.

…It did. 🙂  It’s one of around 45 squares that have been sent in for the project, and some of the squares have been on exhibit at varied events over the past few months..

Gabalfa Mental Health Clinic – May 15, 2015

sos 1

Newport Mind Mental Health Event – October 9, 2015, South Wales

(Because not every square had arrived yet, the quilt wasn’t being assembled, so squares were placed into a notebook along with their accompanying stories.)

This month, the quilt is starting to be assembled, and the variety and beauty of what’s been contributed just astounds me.  A gallery of the completed squares can be found here, but I’m going to post a bunch of assembly pictures because I’m so full of wow over it. (It looks like the team sewing the quilt together is going to get some news coverage,too.) The goal is to have this finished by January 2016, to be put on display in a new purpose built Mental Health Unit in Wales.




Depression lies.


Earlier tonight, the news of Robin Williams’ death hit the internet. Amidst the hope that this was yet another hoax news story was the murmur that maybe Robin’s death was a suicide.

Hoax? No. Suicide? Yes.

Twitter is flooded with recommendations of where to get help if you, too, struggle with depression. My view of Facebook is peppered with people’s bewildered reaction to this death. And I’m here on the sofa with my kitty, Leeloo, thinking about how we today respond to depression and suicide.

@TheBloggess: It only take a moment to lose the war with depression. Be vigilant. Be brave. You do not fight alone. We’re here. #depressionlies

Jenny’s very frank blogs about her struggles with depression and anxiety have helped me a lot, in that they give me something I can show to Bones and say, “Here. It’s like this.” And I am, frankly, lucky as hell that he listens, he doesn’t judge, and even when I describe what it’s been like at its very worst, he doesn’t judge me.

Which sounds like an obvious. Of course he doesn’t judge. He loves me. But I dated someone whose response to my depression – when I was really struggling and fully planning on going to bed and staying there for a few days – his response was, “Yeah. Why don’t you do that?” So I did. For the rest of the week.

Surprisingly, that wasn’t the incident that led to him being an ex boyfriend. Yaaaay depression.

Wil Wheaton has been resharing his blogs about depression – one is here – and has added his voice to the choir of people saying yes, we need to talk about depression.

It was only a few years ago that a friend of mine cautioned me about openly writing about depression. She thought it would hurt my chances at finding a job. “I wouldn’t hire you if I saw that,” she told me.

I’m pleased to say that she was wrong. I was hired as a temp, I told my boss about my anxiety disorder and my depression, and not only did that boss help me find someone to talk to, she also advocated hard to get me hired on full time.

I hope that we are learning better how to talk about depression, and how to respond to depression..that we are figuring out suicide is not cowardly and it’s not weak, it’s the action of someone that is tired of struggling with the things Life throws at a person. If you’ve never been that tired, I’m so very glad. I wouldn’t wish that feeling on anyone.

I’m thinking of Robin with love and sorrow tonight. I’m sorry he fell to that feeling of Done. It only takes a moment of Done for depression to ‘win.’

Depression lies.

ETA: One resource not getting a lot of airtime but I think is worth sharing:
Need someone to listen? Try there.