How Being in the Military Changed My Mind Forever

soldier in uniform with US flag patch

During my first Christmas in Iraq, we were hit by a roadside bomb. It could have been worse. Luckily, no one died in this explosion. Back at the firebase, we were allowed a call on the satellite phone. Some people freely told their parents or loved ones about what had happened. I felt that unbecoming of an infantryman—why scare people back home?—instead I settled on my favorite topic: the weather. Oh stoic me.

Half a year later I was touring Europe with a friend of mine from the same platoon. I wouldn’t say we had seen all that much action, yet there was an anger that was evident in both of us. A hundred and fifty miles per hour seemed too slow. We threw our wrath at anyone in our way. Verbal wrath, but troublesome nonetheless. Whatever I was experiencing I merely concealed by being a stranger in a strange land: the prattle of a foreign language and people going about their way provided a perfect cocoon for me. Continue reading How Being in the Military Changed My Mind Forever

How I Overcame Loneliness

man alone in bed dark room blinds shut

One of the darker times in my life came after the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. It was the end of Albuquerque’s Pride weekend, a celebration of togetherness and community, but I quickly found myself feeling more isolated than ever. In times of tragedy, healthy people lean on others for support. I didn’t do that.

After a year of shutting out everybody who tried to care about me, I had nobody left to talk to. My best friend was in another city and my parents were in another state. All my friends were seeking solace with their families, their close friends, and their lovers, while I was attempting to drown out the collective sobs of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters with my one true love — work.

But misery doesn’t just love company, it needs it to heal. After a couple days of denial, I fell apart. All I wanted was a hug. I chose to seek comfort in people I thought were sure to know exactly how I felt: other gay men. Not quite finished with my poor life choices, I chose to connect with them on Grindr. I can say with great confidence that one-night flings with strangers will do nothing to fix loneliness. Continue reading How I Overcame Loneliness

Mental Health Diary: PTSD

woman journaling on table with coffee

Talkspace’s Mental Health Diary series provides an intimate, anonymous week-long look inside the lives of those struggling with mental illness. Our first diary entry is from a Digital Content Producer and Journalist coping with the lingering effects of sexual abuse. Female // 30s // Los Angeles.

Diagnosis: PTSD; Secondary: borderline personality disorder, OCD, depression
Occupation: Digital Content Producer; Journalist
Location: Los Angeles
Medication: Luvox, Abilify, (Prozac); Xanax as needed
Therapy: Two 90-minute in-person therapy sessions a week; Talkspace therapist; Bi-weekly trauma group therapy; Weekly DBT skills group
Health Insurance: Cigna; (Blue Shield)

DAY 1

7:45 a.m.
I get out of bed on the fifth alarm and throw on clothing to get out the door in 10 minutes or less to make it to work on time. Basic self-care stuff baffles me, so I do the best I can in jeans and some rumpled shirt that really should be washed. Continue reading Mental Health Diary: PTSD

Confession: Sometimes I Use Mental Illness as an Excuse for Flakiness

woman in bed holding head phone on desk

This story is a part of our Mental Health Confessions series, a collection of stories from people who open up about times they felt guilty or conflicted about their mental health issue.

I’m pretty tolerant of most types of people, but I absolutely hate flakes. I have cut off friendships because I can’t deal with others’ flakiness, especially when it comes down to repeated incidents of bailing on plans at the last minute.

However, some might say I’m a hypocrite. Why? My mental illness, at times, causes me to become the very type of person I hate.

Friendship is a two-way street. We expect our friends to put in the same amount of time and emotional labor into maintaining a relationship as we do ourselves. Of course, we know this isn’t always the case, and I’ll be the first to admit it: with some of my friends, I feel like I am giving less than I’m getting. I’ve flaked on even the best of my best friends, and I fear one day they’ll decide to cut me loose because of it. Continue reading Confession: Sometimes I Use Mental Illness as an Excuse for Flakiness

Hunger: My Battle With Anorexia

empty plate with note I'M NOT HUNGRY

This piece is part of our Darkest Day series, a collection of stories from people who’ve made it through the worst of their illness and now light the way for others.

It’s 7am and I’ve already burned 1,000 calories on the elliptical. I’m packing up my food for the day. Breakfast is 113 calories for 3 egg whites and 1 cup of grapes. Lunch will be 131 calories for turkey, mustard, lettuce, and baby carrots. I’ve also packed 1 pack of Parliament Lights, 4 Diet Cokes, 1 gallon of water, and 1 brand new pack of bubblemint gum. I’ll have dance class in the afternoon, which takes care of another 300 or so calories. Dinner is always a wild card –– it depends on who’s around and how carefully I’m being watched. I have food saved in my room for later just in case. I am 16 years old and 70 pounds; I am a human calorie counter and numbers genius who, ironically, is also struggling in Pre-Calculus.

Looking back, it’s hard to pinpoint a clear start for all of this. Unlike an alcoholic who can often describe their first drink, there was no concrete “first.” My eating disorder was a physical manifestation of a longtime underlying condition. It was some combination of perfectionism, extreme sensitivity, fear, and ironically enough a hunger –– a hunger for love, acceptance, validation. A hunger for everything. That hunger felt unmanageable so instead of learning how to experience it, I taught myself how to stop it, to cut it off, to starve it out. If you don’t want anything, you can never get hurt, right? Continue reading Hunger: My Battle With Anorexia

The Stories PTSD Tells Me

woman on floor next to shower white towel

This piece is part of our Darkest Day series, a collection of stories from people who’ve made it through the worst of their illness and now light the way for others.

Images flash back through my mind.

I am locked in a dark office in the corner of another locked room during a free class period of the high school day. I’m balanced precariously on the edge of a desk with my legs wrapped around his body, the bulge in his pants gyrating in the crook between my legs. My mind wanders and eventually lands on my aching muscles, my trembling arms and legs. They’re not going to hold much longer.

He is standing fully clothed, his usual beat-up brown loafers planted on the floor. I smell his Cheer-washed dress shirt and Dial soap-scrubbed skin. His Docker’s are hemmed a couple inches too short. He is 43. I am 17. Those loafers rise and fall off the floor with every thrust of his crotch into me, the friction of fabric on fabric a barely noticeable sensation. All my attention focuses on my awkward position on this desk — my muscles ache and burn in protest.

He grinds away, oblivious in ecstasy, his face turned upwards, making those moaning sounds. Finally, my body overrides my mental willpower to stay upright and my muscles collapse. I start to fall off the desk, headed toward the floor, before he catches me and props me back on the desk.

Other memories follow. Continue reading The Stories PTSD Tells Me

When Anger and Emotions Run Your Life

angry woman expletives cartoon

I became self-aware of my anger in my early 20s after I was diagnosed as bipolar. Shortly after my diagnosis, I was at a bar with some friends and an ex-boyfriend showed up with his new girlfriend. Some words were said and instead of walking away to cool off, I threw myself at her and wrapped my fingers around her throat. Two bouncers pulled me off and frog-marched me to the door. Even though I clearly had been drinking, I got into my car and sped off to a friend’s house. I crashed on their couch and drove home sober early the following morning.

I marveled later that I was not pulled over for drunk driving and, had I been, how much my life would have changed. I marveled that assault charges were never filed against me. I also marveled at how my anger may have become my new normal.

It was a wake-up call. Something had to change, but the actual change wouldn’t come until much later. Continue reading When Anger and Emotions Run Your Life

I Actually Enjoy Going to Therapy

man smiling holding phone

When I worked with a therapist for the first time, I did not imagine it was something I would ever enjoy. Part of it was the way I started. My parents nagged me into going. After doctors were unable to diagnose or treat my sleep deprivation, my mom suggested it might be related to mental health and that seeing a therapist could help. After months of resisting her recommendations, I finally booked an appointment.

At first I perceived it as the mental health equivalent of eating healthy foods that tasted terrible, going to the dentist, or getting a physical. It was an unpleasant chore, but it couldn’t hurt.

The initial months were difficult and painful. My therapist and I discovered I had constructed a subconscious system of negative beliefs to cope with the pain of living with undiagnosable, painful, relentless, and stressful health problems. Rather than protecting me, this system had poisoned my mind and exacerbated my physical issues. Continue reading I Actually Enjoy Going to Therapy

Mental Health Warriors: An Interview with Chinae Alexander

Chinae Alexander headshot quote

Throughout Mental Health Month, we focused on ways to empower individuals to “light their way” to better mental health, happiness, and improved well-being. As part of this celebration, we profiled “Mental Health Warriors,” individuals who have been outspoken in their advocacy and support for mental health issues. We caught up with lifestyle and fitness expert Chinae Alexander.

Talkspace: Society imposes some pretty impossible standards around female beauty. Did you absorb this message as a child or was it something you became more aware of later on in life?

Chinae Alexander: I think it was a little easier for us growing up, those pressures were certainly there, but with the onslaught of social media, etc, I can’t imagine what it’s like being a young girl now. I also grew up with a mom who always reminded me of my beauty. It’s amazing how shaping that has been and I’m glad I had that foundation to help me navigate the current age. Continue reading Mental Health Warriors: An Interview with Chinae Alexander

My Lost Decade: A Story of Addiction and Recovery

bottle alcohol man rowing boat illustration

This piece is part of our Darkest Day series, a collection of stories from people who’ve made it through the worst of their illness and now light the way for others. #LightYourWay

It is the middle of the morning and I am standing in front of a sliding pocket door. The pocket door is made of wood and my forehead rests against the surface. The door divides the apartment: me on one side and my roommate on the other. It’s not a particularly nice piece of wood — unfinished, some rudimentary bevels — but it is holding me up. Earlier in the morning, I was snorting Ritalin in my closet. I have a pretty indigo glass plate I use for crushing the pills that’s now scratched with use. I was looking down at a line of powder on the plate. It was my fifth or sixth pill of the night, at a time when I was snorting 20 or so pills in a day. With the straw in my hand, I considered a couple of truths: I’d stolen the pills from my roommate; I’d eventually be caught; part of me wanted to be caught; part of me hoped I’d die before that happened.

“We really have a problem,” I said to myself. When things got really bad — when I couldn’t believe the things I was doing — I’d start referring to myself as a group.

I snorted the line. The burn felt like pain and ecstasy and shame. But no matter how high I’d get myself those days — dripping sweat, heart jumping in my chest, and ringing in my ears — I couldn’t shake the feeling of loneliness. And later in the evenings, I’d start drinking whiskey to slow down my body. Rinse, lather, repeat. Continue reading My Lost Decade: A Story of Addiction and Recovery