Designing empowered women: combating violence

VAW Broken Mirror BANNER

“A Mother who radiates self-love and self-acceptance actually VACCINATES
her daughteragainst low self-esteem.”

― Naomi Wolf

When I was asked to write a guest post about preventing violence against women, I felt a familiar fire bubble from my core; a resistance so strong that a visceral reaction of nausea mixed with anxiety began to take hold.

I was a victim of a violent attack in my late teens which left me nearly paralyzed, unconscious, as the imprint of his fingers left a black and blue ring around my throat- the whites of my eyes blood red for weeks.

I have never written my story. I may never write about it. I do not feel like a warrior when I tell it, nor do I feel sharing it is for the benefit of other women. I feel as victims learn to; holding beliefs, such as, somehow I made too many mistakes.

I was naïve and should’ve known better when everyone warned me about his reputation and attacks on a previous girlfriend.

Dare I say, that it was even more enticing to me -the story of a bad boy who never loved again because he feared he loved too hard. One-night stands were all he could manage, a badge of honor he wore proudly and was honored for among the guys.

I would change him.

He would love me and he would be faithful and we would show the world that love between two wounded souls can exist. I’ve always had a wild heart.

violence against women awarenessI love to fall in love. I love that an addiction can form from the scent of another person. I love the fire. The way a new lover reveals themselves to us bit by bit like that first warm day of the season which promises heat, sunlight, and blooming beauty. I love the fights. We sometimes hate the other person. I even love that because in those moments we are feeling the full spectrum of our lives, the wide range of temper and passion like thunderstorms in summer which give way to rainbows and delicious scents that intoxicate whimsical souls such as mine.

I craved an addiction -the desire to wrap myself around someone who was so damaged that I can finally feel worthy because if a man like him can love me, it means I am truly lovable. Addiction is what is born when desire meets need with a side of desperation.

I romanticized us. I blamed myself when it was all over like a well trained victim.

I was called a liar after it happened. And the victim in me questioned my own sanity. A victim is not weak. A victim has learned to be nice and kind and reframe their world so that when things go wrong in their life the guilt is suffocating. I often think of that famous picture with an elephant who is standing next to a tiny stool, a thin string tied around his leg. He only steps as far as the string will allow. The elephant believes that he is bound to the stool.

And so it is.

Our attachments to other people are a lot like that.

I pulled myself out of the wreckage of the car which plummeted 50 ft into the water on that night. I was stripped of what I thought I knew about myself, about love, and about self-love. I continue today to pull myself out of the wreckage of what followed.

How can violence against women be prevented?

We must push damn hard for the life we know was meant for us. I did.

I write this as a reminder to myself as well.

Prevention starts with you!

Here are some tips you can put into practice if you need or want to raise awareness in relation to violence against women.

  • violence against women monthBegin with your children. Even if you don’t have any. Re-parent the little girl inside of you any way you can. Replay moments when she felt unworthy and unsafe and hug her tight. Validate her fears and tell her she’s safe and you will never let anyone hurt her.
    Mean it.
  • Keep her picture with you always, whether it is your own little girl or yourself as a child. Try to tell that picture that she deserves abuse or pain. You will not be able to do it. It will feel barbaric and cruel… because it is. Because she is perfect. Look at her daily and tell her that she is deeply loved.
  • Discuss life goals with her which do not involve anyone else.
  • Tell her she’s beautiful, but also tell her she is intelligent. Being intelligent is damn powerful.
  • Teach her to be fierce. Speak up and get good and angry when she’s passionate about something. It doesn’t mean she isn’t nice or kind.
  • Violence against the self occurs each time she puts herself down, self-criticizes, and believes the stories she tells herself in those moments.
  • If it feels like abuse but there are no physical marks or attacks to speak of- IT CAN STILL BE ABUSE.
  • Model healthy boundaries and say no in front of her. Say no to her and teach her that it is self loving to fucking say no, sometimes!
  • Love her with all that you are and if she makes mistakes, never shame her.
  • Allow her to see if you’re afraid, and on that fringe of fear show her what it looks like to fly.


If you should fall in front of her, show her that at the foot of darkness, you will find your way home.

“I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world
But, she’s just like a maze
Where all of the walls all continually change
And I’ve done all I can
To stand on her steps with my heart in my hand
Now I’m starting to see
Maybe It’s got nothing to do with me
Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too”

~ John Mayer

unnamedA public school teacher, writer, reiki practitioner and certified yoga instructor- Nicole guides both children and adults through yoga practice. After breaking her back, doctors couldn’t be certain she would ever walk again. Igniting her desire to heal both the emotional and physical body, she went on to receive her 200 hr. Hot Yoga/ Ashtanga Vinyasa teaching certificate, along with a specialized 100 hr. Yoga Rocks!Kids certification. As she shares her journey toward peace through healing practices like yoga and meditation, she is immensely grateful for the second chance she has been given. Her articles have appeared in MindBodyGreen, Elephant Journal, and Rebelle Society.

How could we not celebrate TV? – World Television day

World Television Day

How important is TV in your life?

On 30 October 1925, John Logie Baird made the first transmission of a moving image (a human face) on a television.

Nowadays, can we imagine a world without TV?

I mean… seriously. Can you!?

I for one, can’t. Television is a medium that informs, entertains, provokes, discusses. Television opened up the world and, to this day, it provides us with the chance to take a peek beyond our own backyards and national borders.

We probably don’t even realize how much television influences our lives

On a small scale, imagine for example, that you’re doing groceries at a supermarket and you overhear people discussing the events that happened on their favorite soap opera last night.

“Robert married Laura. How could he? She cheated on him!”

And I’m sure many of you have laughed, cried and shouted together with your favorite Once Upon A Time characters, like Emma, and Regina; or with the six goofballs in Friends!

I also know for sure that there were moments throughout your life that you will always remember, simply because you’ve witnessed them on television.

For the Baby Boomers and their parents, the words…

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”

one-small-step-mankindwill probably be imprinted in their memory forever, because they saw the first moon landing happening live on TV. Our imagination was sparked and the world would never be the same again.

Or that moment in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was taken down.

The whole world was watching.

Not only the major events that are shown on TV have an influence on the world and how we perceive it. Did you know that a study showed that “ER” was responsible for Americans adopting a healthier way of life?

Or have you ever heard about the “CSI effect”? Jurors apparently have unrealistic expectations of forensic science and investigation techniques because of television crime shows.

Isn’t it crazy how much of an influence TV has on us?!

Of course, Television can’t fall behind on everything else in the world and needs its own day.

World Television Day

It is celebrated each year on the 21st November, and on this day we recognize the increasing impact television has on our lives.

More specifically, we celebrate television “as a symbol for communication and globalization in the contemporary world” (United Nations). Very formal, I know.

That’s why I am taking the poetic license to list down my favorite top 10 fictional TV shows to start this celebration in a lighter way. (Fangirls and boys out there, apologies in advance for any confronting gifs you are about to see. Sorry if I spoil you!)

Top 10 of my favorite TV shows

1. The Doctor and his companions - Doctor Who

The Tenth Doctor and Rose - Doomsday

2. Fairytales like you’ve never seen before - Once Upon A Time

Emma and Neal - Once Upon a Time

3. One of my first fangirl experiences - Charmed

Charmed - TV show

4. Mother and daughter and their entourage - Gilmore Girls

Gilmore Girls - TV show

5. I plead for a new series of - Gavin & Stacey

Gavin and Stacey

6. The famous British detective and his partner in crime - Sherlock

Sherlock - Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

7. That group… - Friends

Friends - TV show

8. The show that introduced me to crime series - Crime Scene Investigation

CSI - TV show

9. The partly improvised show - Outnumbered

Outnumbered - TV show

10. The crazy Catherine Tate and her sketches - The Catherine Tate Show

The Catherine Tate Show - Lauren Cooper

Now we want to see your favorite TV show! Look for a gif image, and post it here below in the comments or send it to us via Twitter (@UDucklingsInc), using the hashtag #WeLoveTV and #WorldTVDay. We’re looking forward to receiving your entries!

- Maaike
Ugly Ducklings Inc’s Research Assistant
PS: If you see any of your gif images above and would like us to remove it or properly credit you, please email us at [email protected]

It’s Movember… but, what is it?

Movember awareness, moustache

Remember, remember

The month of November

Facial hair season for men

I know of no reason

The facial hair season

Should be left solely to them

… which is at least, in part, why you’ve got a girl writing about the annual moustache growing, men’s health awareness campaign known as Movember.

The premise is simple.

Chaps (known as Mo Bros) start the month of November with a clean-shaven face and for the next 30 days grow a moustache. No beards, goatees or other facial hair allowed!

The aim is to start conversations about men’s health issues, in particular prostate and testicular cancer, and mental health.

  • The movement started in Australia in 2003 with 30 men growing moustaches to raise money for prostate cancer.
  • It has grown exponentially from there, to over four million participants from 21 official countries last year.

It’s particularly important to raise awareness for men’s health issues because statistically men are far less likely to discuss or take action when they feel mentally or physically unwell than women are, and because of this, there is an overall lack of awareness and understanding of the health issues men face.

talk about cancer, menIn the UK, life expectancy is nearly four years lower for men than for women. They have a 14% higher risk of developing cancer, and 37% higher risk of dying from it.

Movember decided to add mental health to their remit this year because there is still such a strong stigma surrounding it and men are less likely to look after themselves until it is too late. Research by the UK mental health charity Mind indicates that nearly a third would be embarrassed to seek help for a mental health issue and what is particularly worrying is that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 35 in the UK.

In fact 77% of suicides here are male. So, ensuring that they not only feel comfortable discussing these issues, but also that they have places to go is incredibly important.

Their aim for the funds raised this year in the UK is for at least 2.5 million to go to projects that help break down the stigma of discussing the issues of mental health, and provide resources for men to talk and share their experiences and help, and advice when it is needed.

And for my fellow ladies out there, remember that you can still support these issues in your community by becoming a Mo Sista! And also, don’t forget to discuss this with your brothers, uncles, dads, granddads…

For more information on what Movember is doing in your country please visit

- Catherine

On November 19, send us your moustache photo :)

movember twitter campaign

An Adoption Story Full of Pranks

science of adoption 1

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.
— Albert Einstein

The best way to describe my 8th grade science teacher, Mrs. Loudermilt, would be to say that Ms. Frizzle had come to life. I’m still not entirely convinced that author JoAnna Cole did not indeed base her character off of one Mrs. Loudermilt, whom wore white lab coats so she could carry both a snake and a piece of candy in her pocket. Her walls were covered in posters and quotes of Albert Einstein and the counters were filled to capacity with chemistry beakers, bunsen burners, metal pans, snake aquariums, student microscopes, and in the corner I swear there was a miniature version of the hubble telescope. Just looking at her classroom made you believe that the cure for any disease could be created in

Mrs. Loudermilt was serious about teaching Science. She had taken Science and turned it into almost a way of life for us during the 90 minute block we had with her. Science was not simply reading from the textbook; it was about making ice cream to teach about temperatures, to showcase the demonstrative properties of water being a solid/liquid/gas. But we did more than just make ice cream; the biggest lesson of the day was that learning could actually be fun.

There was a tactility to her teachings, and with it also came the best sense of humor. We all thought she was a bit crazy, a true mad scientist if you will, but there was nothing mad about her.

No, there was a kindness behind that sneaky grin and she was constantly pulling pranks. It was not unusual for Mrs. Loudermilt to throw candy in classrooms as she walked down the hall just so she could disrupt the the other educator’s teachings. After one such instance our English teacher vowed that she would retaliate. Now, I may or may not have suggested to our English teacher that we concoct a plan to have all of us walk out of Mrs. Loudermilt’s class while she was in the middle of teaching. So the next day when the clock hit a certain time, we all just stood up and walked out of her class leaving her speechless, but laughing all the same.

But Mrs. Loudermilt was never one to be bested so in response she had the English teacher’s classroom furniture removed while she was at lunch. Once again, I may or may not have suggested the idea to Mrs. Loudermilt. And because I may or may not have participated in such removal of furniture, it did not mean that I didn’t completely adore my English teacher; however, now I was in the middle of these two pranks so it was only natural that the very next morning both my English teacher and my Science teacher had called me into the school’s office.

Continue reading

What does Mental Fitness mean?

mental health ED

Many of you know that Ugly Ducklings Inc works closely with a nonprofit organization called Mental Fitness Inc. This is work that we are very proud of and very passionate about. But… what is “mental fitness”?

We’ve asked Robyn Hussa Farrell to guest-interview with us this week to discuss Mental Fitness Inc, and building resiliency in children, youth and adults, among other things.

Welcome, Robyn. Thank you so much for being here with us!

Thank you Erin and Marie and all!

We’ve interviewed Robyn before, but for any new readers, could you tell us who you are and what you do for Mental Fitness Inc?

I’m the Founder and CEO of Mental Fitness. I created the organization almost 9 years ago when I produced a rock musical in New York City that led to many of my friends and loved ones entering treatment for eating disorders. Mental Fitness brings evidence-based arts and media programs into schools to build resiliency in kids of all ages.

How do you define ‘mental fitness’? What is so important about it when it comes to Mental Health?

We are so obsessed with physical fitness, that we wanted to create a way to look at health that includes mental wellness, too. Interestingly we are one of the only wealthy nations in the world who DOESN’T have measures that include social, emotional and psychological well being for our kids. It is time to change that!

The website talks a lot about the “Seven Pillars of Mental Fitness”… can you tell us more about what they are?

pillarsWe have been collaborating with researchers for the last decade and found several protective factors that increase resiliency and help to build mental fitness. These include mindfulness, stress-management, nourishing the body and mind, media literacy, community connections, body image and self-esteem. We’ve written about them on the new b:resilient website here.

We brought together all of the prevention-focused research in one place and created a mental fitness map which helps kids and adults improve seven key areas of fitness. We know that if a person focuses on each of these areas, they will improve overall health measures! The seven categories include:

  • self-esteem and internal validation
  • body image
  • media literacy and critical thinking
  • stress management
  • connecting with community through volunteering and role models
  • nourishing body and mind by understanding facts about Intuitive Eating and other evidence based prevention models
  • mindfulness

The way we teach about mental fitness is through evidence-based programs. So, for example, for the Body Image category, we help schools connect with the evidence-based programs that exist in that area including Dr. Becker and Stice’s “Body Project” or Kathy Kater’s “Healthy Bodies” programs.

Where can we find more information about Mental Fitness Inc and each protective category?

There is a handout here with lots of information. 

What is next for Mental Fitness Inc?

Online learning tools at b:resilient so that more educators and professionals have access to this amazing prevention research!

Thank you so much for being here with us today! We’ll post your bio below, but what is the best way for our readers to support MFI and find you?

Our website has more information about our mission and programs. You can ‘like’ us on facebook and follow us on twitter. I am also on twitter!

Robyn Hussa Farrell, Mental Fitness IncRobyn Hussa Farrell is the Founder and CEO of Mental Fitness, Inc., the non-profit we support here at UglyDucklings Inc. Marie and I have been in touch with her for almost two years now, and she is a constant inspiration to us. Robyn works incredibly hard to ensure that children grow up with a healthy mental fitness; something that is very important and inspiring work. We are so happy and proud to be a part of such an amazing organization that really is changing the lives of children in America. You can check out our other pieces about Mental Fitness Inc and our interview with Robyn to learn more… additionally, be sure to check back in the new year as we will be having a HUGE charity raffle to raise support for Mental Fitness Inc.

Mental Health & Diabetes – An Interesting Connection


Today is World Diabetes Day and this week is Mental Health Awareness Week. We are excited to have an incredible blog here by Heather Gomez; when we asked Heather to write a blog for us about her struggles with diabetes, we had no idea how much it would tie into our series on Mental Health Awareness week in addition to bringing awareness to diabetes.  I am very excited to share this with you – check out Heather’s bio and website below as well!

By Heather Gomez

I spent the majority of Christmas holidays of 2005 curled up in a ball on the living room couch, tears streaming down my face. I felt empty, purposeless, isolated, and hopeless. My parents, concerned that I might be depressed, took me to my family doctor who ran a series of blood tests to first rule out anything physical. It was only days later we got the news that something physical was indeed wrong; I was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic at 16 years old. The doctors I spoke to were of the opinion that, with the correct dosage of insulin, I should be feeling better in no time.

Six years later, I sat numb and partially sedated in front of a psychiatrist in the mental health ward of my local PHOT0014.JPGhospital, detailing the crushing crescendo that had evolved from those same feelings that began back in high school. I spent three weeks in the psychiatric ward, heavily medicated and glassy-eyed. When I emerged I had five new medications and a formal diagnosis – Major Depressive Disorder.  I was referred to a 12-week outpatient therapy program through the hospital, where I was followed by a psychiatrist. Medications were tweaked and weekly dialogues with a therapist ensued. Depression and diabetes were becoming a reality.

Eventually I was referred to an eating disorders clinic, where I attended group therapy sessions twice a week, and regularly saw a counselor, psychiatrist, and dietitian. My time at the eating disorders clinic was extremely enlightening, and I developed a keen sense of self-awareness through candid discussions. As I shared my frustrations, anxieties, and stressors week-to-week with the group, I noticed my diabetes would frequently take center stage. I had never thought of my diabetes as a particularly “bad” part of my life – it was just who I was. Yet when I openly and honestly shared, I found myself referencing my defunct pancreas and its related demands on not just my body, but also my mind, heart, and soul.

As I began to piece together my experiences with mental illness, I discovered other anatomical parts of my body – not just the organ floating in my skull – were part of the bigger picture. Yet for so long I had quarantined the two issues – body and mind – from each other. If my blood sugar was high, I would take more insulin. If I was feeling suicidal, I would practice positive self-talk. Of course, neither of these are bad things, but they were only addressing one fraction of the puzzle in each case.

Unfortunately, this partiality was, and is, common practice among my healthcare providers. When I visit the endocrinologist, I am treated as a diabetic. During my time in the psychiatric ward and during appointments with therapists, I was treated as a mentally-ill patient. Rarely have I been treated as both simultaneously, and this is where the problem lies. In my specific case, diabetes and mental health are not mutually exclusive.

The depressive symptoms I encountered throughout high school and university had been augmented by my diabetes. Likewise, the challenges of self-care for a chronic illness had been exacerbated by my depression and eating disorder. If I am not managing one sphere of my health well, the other will also suffer. Likewise, if I am making healthy choices to manage one illness, the other will almost certainly reap benefits as a result. It was in understanding this that I was, and am, able to achieve the greatest level of care for both illnesses that I live with.

freedomWordsChronic illness is not merely a physical battle, nor are the effects of mental illness strictly resigned to the mind. If I have learned anything over the past eight years living with both diabetes and mental illness, it is that I can’t manage one without managing the other. Periods of depression will always negatively exert themselves on my will to properly self-care, just as the daily grind of blood testing and carbohydrate-counting will mentally exhaust and discourage me at times. I can’t undo either condition, but I can consciously choose to do my best to manage the deficits of both body and mind. As I do, I am striving to raise awareness among healthcare workers and fellow patients about the link between mental health and chronic illness. It is my hope that our healthcare system will get to a point where both body and mind, the physical and the mental, the seen and the unseen, are delicately considered despite the nature of a diagnosis.

Thank you so much, Heather, for your contribution to Ugly Ducklings!  You can find out more about Heather and her journey by visiting her blog Bigger Than My Body.

A family secret: I suffered a mental health problem

Mental health awareness

I diagnosed myself when I was fifteen;
seven years later, a psychiatrist did it.

In February 2012, I was confronted with a family secret: My grandfather had been a patient in a psychiatric hospital for six months when my Dad was a teenager due to a mental breakdown and psychosis. While my grandfather was there, he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Whether that was type I or type II, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does.

I confronted my Dad about why I was never told of this, especially because of my continuous depressions through my life. He tried to play it off, like it was no big deal. (I’m not looking to make my Dad seem like a bad guy because he certainly is not; he just doesn’t seem to be proud of his – my – family’s history – except for the good things of course.)

mental-health-story-quote-1Well, that night I made a decision to go to my doctor and demand to get a referral for a psych evaluation. I’d been going to him at least once a year since I was 15, telling him that I needed help and he’d just kept sending me to psychologists who failed to recognize any signs. But this time, I wasn’t going to listen to him; this time he was going to listen to me!

Three weeks later, I went and told my doctor to give me that referral… He finally did. After seven years, I was finally going to get the help that I knew I needed. Since my first serious depression, I’d known that it wasn’t “just” a depression. I knew it was more than that, but no one would listen to a “hormonal” 15 year old.

Six months later I went to the psychiatrist and filled out a questionnaire that would determine if I had an actual mental illness and if so, which one. After I’d filled it out, I went in for the consult and I told him why I’d sought for psychiatric help as opposed to psychological and we made an appointment for another consult a month later.

August ended and September 21st came; I finally got there and sat down in the waiting room. Of course, the doctor was late. Typical, isn’t it? When you’re about to be late and you rush to get there, whoever you’re meeting is late. It didn’t take long for him to pull me in and give me my diagnosis. “Hi Camilla. So… There’s no doubt about it. You have Bipolar Disorder type II.”

No doubt. No doubt? After seven years, at least seven depression consults with my doctor, three psychologists and countless counsellors, it took one test and one conversation with a psychiatrist to get a diagnosis. A diagnosis that I had known I would receive. For seven years I had dealt with the downside of this illness and no one had been there to really help me.

mental-health-story-quote-2Less two months after I got my diagnosis, I went through another downward spiral, with the snap of two fingers. All I remember is waking up one morning and not being able to get up. I, physically, couldn’t. I lied there, listening to my alarm going off until my Mom came in half an hour later and asked me why I wasn’t up yet. I just looked into the air and said, “It’s gone bad again.” And so, another battle started, but this time we knew why and how to help it.

I ended up dropping out of school –third try on getting an education– to concentrate on getting better and staying better. With a diagnosis it wasn’t hard to have the system work with me instead of against me. They set me up in a mindfulness-ish class that had a couple of painting hours a week, which were the only reason I went. I wasted seven months there until I could get into a program for people who aren’t fit for work or school.

During those months, I did my best to experience as many things that would give me joy as possible. I went to Paris to meet one of my two best friends for the first time. Two months later I went to the Monte Carlo TV Festival with my other best friend – my best friend for longer than forever, as her and I say. And that same Summer I was lucky enough to not get renewed at that mindfulness-ish class, so that I could have a month vacation before starting the program. This break gave me two weeks in Skagen; this annual trip was exactly what I needed! A week of having fun with a friend and the next with my Dad and sister – later joined by my sister’s mother – where I spent most days relaxing in the sun. Perfect.

And finally August came and the program started.

This program has three subjects: music, art and theatre. And since August 2013, I have been an amateur actress. This place is safe. If you’re energized and overjoyed, you use that energy to do theatre work. If you’re tired or sad – or both – there’s a place upstairs with a couch, where you can lie down if you need to. It’s a place where you have support your co-workers, the guidance counsellors and the ones who are in charge of each subject. There’s room for you there. Continue reading

In honour of Remembrance Day

Poppies Vintage

Some of my friends have entire poems memorized. I’ve never really been one for poetry at all (though Mary Oliver’s endless wisdom has definitely been growing on me lately). I do have two poems memorized. And I am very happy that the two poems I have memorized are the ones my brain has decided to retain.

One is a poem about our heroes (A Hero Is…), something close to my heart that I’ve shared about before in this blog. But the first poem I ever remember learning is In Flanders Fields by John McCrae. This beautiful poem is read every year in our schools on November 11th – our Remembrance Day here in Canada (The USA’s Veteran’s Day).SoldiersVintage

Today is November 11th and we want to use this date to honour all those who have given their lives and made sacrifices for the freedoms of others. Ultimately, we want to honour these individuals every day; I keep my poppy on display year-round with a Canadian flag pin stuck in it to remind me of what it means to be Canadian; to remind me of the blood spilled so I have the privilege of waking up each morning and doing whatever I want to do and being whoever I want to be.

Please take the time today to honour our Veterans in your heart and in your life. And I will leave you with this poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
- John McCrae


Looking for a place to talk about a mental illness?

mental health awareness

In honor of mental health awareness month, I wanted to take the time to tell you about Stigma Fighters.

I am 35 years old. For as long as I can remember I have suffered from panic attacks and depression. My moods were like a roller coaster. Some days, I would wake up in a cold sweat with my heart racing. I was terrified. It was as if someone was chasing me and trying to harm me, only there wasn’t anyone.

It was just me.

The fear shifted, changed and morphed over time. I was afraid of contracting a terminal illness and dying. Then I was afraid of starving to death because I had no appetite.

That was panic.

There was also depression. I didn’t want to open my eyes. I couldn’t bathe myself for days. I stopped talking. I stopped laughing. I couldn’t laugh. I forced myself to do the things I “had” to do like go to school (and at later points in life work) but everything felt wrong.

I felt wrong.

The worst part about feeling this way was that I couldn’t tell anyone about what I was coping with. It was a secret. My mom and my best friend were the ones who knew the deepest darkest parts. For the rest of the world, I had to fake being normal. I had to pretend that everything was okay.

Finally, something within me snapped… in a positive way. I was tired of pretending. In my 30′s I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about how it feels to live with a mental illness and have to hide it. It was called Fighting Against The Stigma of Mental Illness. Readers wrote to me thanking me for my honesty. I then realized that we are missing a crucial piece of the mental health puzzle in our society.

So many people are living in fear about people finding out they have a mental health issue. So I started a community called the Stigma Fighters where people could break their silence and share their stories.

I encourage you to read the stories of the brave human beings on Stigma Fighters. They are living with bipolar disorder, depression, postpartum depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, PTSD and more.

Stigma Fighters is becoming a non- profit too! There will be chapters of Stigma Fighters at colleges and universities across the United States. If you want to share your story, please consider doing it on Stigma Fighters.

- Sarah

Sarah Fader is the creator of the popular parent-life blog Old School /New School Mom. Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Additionally, like about six million other American adults, Sarah lives with panic disorder. She is currently leading the Stigma Fighters campaign which gives individuals with mental illness a platform to share their personal stories. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to show the world that there is a diverse array of real everyday people behind mental illness labels. Find her on twitter @osnsmom

An unusual view of adoption to help create awareness

November, adoption awareness

We wanted to show you this, because it raises awareness about adoption from a less-typical perspective. Share your thoughts in the comments below! Do you have an adoption story? If you do, send it our way. Email us at [email protected]

I always find that there is a side of adoption that doesn’t seem to get talked about quite as much as the rest. Adopted children are often asked to share their stories. Their adoptive parents are also generally given an open forum for talking about their motivations for adopting. But I always find the birth family isn’t often acknowledged, specifically in the media and our culture.

If and when a birth mother is given a significant story line in either fiction or non-fiction, it usually is talking about the circumstances that caused her to give-up her babies or young children, or what caused her babies or young children to be taken from her.

I love adoption.  I think it is an amazing and beautiful thing. 

And I truly believe that without adoption, I wouldn’t be alive.

She found us

I wasn’t adopted, but my mom had a baby when she was fifteen years old and gave her up for adoption. The statistics of couples that stay together while raising an infant born during their adolescence definitely point to me not being here if my mother hadn’t made that choice.

I didn’t know my mother and father had had this baby when I was younger.  I didn’t know about the baby until she, as an adult, searched for her birth parents and found them together with two young children. I was eleven.

adoption awareness monthTo say my life changed would be an understatement… but every single change was for the better. My sister is an incredibly strong and smart individual and we are very close. She is definitely my hero and I am so proud to have her as a sister.

It’s been so long now, we are just sisters; we were pretty much just sisters from the start. She is as much a part of our family as I am, and she is a part of me.

It’s also been so long now that we don’t have to tell the story that we didn’t always know each other to everyone we meet. The people who have been in our lives from the time we met already know… and the new people in our lives only know who we are now and what our relationship is now.

Occasionally, the story comes up in conversation and we do tell people who have never known us in any other context. The reactions range anywhere from endearing…

- “That is so sweet.  It is so nice to see you two having such a marvellous relationship now.”

… to hurtful

- “Oh… so she’s not your real sister?”

And there is the occasional disbelief, but probably not in the sense you’re thinking:

- “Pft, whatever. Adopted. Yeah right. By a family that looks exactly like you.”

It’s true.  We do look alike.  I have a photo of my mother, my sister and I at the same age, side-by-side… there’s no doubt we’re all related.

When people accuse her of not being my “real” sister… that’s the one that gets to me the most.  She is my sister.  Not only is she 100% biologically my sister… she is my sister in every other sense of the word.  I’ve had her in my life for more years now than not. We are close friends. We talk every day. She constantly inspires me and helps me. I don’t know how I would have gotten through high school without her.

She is my sister.  She is a part of me.

And yeah… I’m the bio family. I’m the family that’s not often talked about when the discussion of adoption comes up – certainly not biological siblings. But we do exist. Whether we’re 100% blood siblings or half siblings, we are “real” siblings and we are affected by the adoption too.