Stand With Sam

Stand With Sam

Mizzou students make a wall on Feb. 15 in response to the Westboro Baptist Church protest against Michael Sam’s public announcement that he is gay that took place earlier this week. Students stood for as long as three hours to show their support for Sam, their school and members of the LGBTQ community.

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Smokers of Columbia – Cindee Chappell

Smokers of Columbia - Cindee Chappell

Cindee Chappell smokes in downtown Columbia on Feb. 16. “I’m homeless so smoking is mostly psychosomatic. I’ve quit and then started and then quit again. I want to quit but I want to get back on my feet first,” Chappell said.

Smokers of Columbia – Katarina Savic

Smokers of Columbia - Katarina Savic

Katarina Savic smokes in line at the protest of the Westboro Baptist Church on Stadium Boulevard on Feb. 15. “I started smoking when I was 16, kinda like a rebellion against my parents. I was hanging out with a bunch of people who smoked and I thought I was a badass and then I got addicted and I’ve haven’t stopped since,” Savic said.

Smokers of Columbia – Bing Berry

Smokers of Columbia - Bing Berry

Bing Berry smokes on the streets of Columbia on Feb. 11. “Everyone thinks people start smoking to go along with the crowd, but that wasn’t it for me. My grandma smoked, my dad smoked. The first time I has a cigarette I stole a pack from my grandma and smoked in my room, and I fell asleep with the cigarette still in my hand and I caught the mattress on fire. That’s the first time I got caught smoking and I was just a little kid at the time,” said Berry.

Overcoming Mental Health Issues

Just because mental disorders are becoming less stigmatized and more accepted as an actual disease in our society doesn’t mean it is easy to admit that you have one. And just because you’ve revealed that information to someone doesn’t make it easy to let them know when you’re struggling with it.

For about three years now I have been battling with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, otherwise known as PMDD, and basically this means that when i’m PMSing I get severely depressed. PMDD isn’t that common either – its found in only 2-10% of menstruating women.

I remember admitting to friends during one of those bad weeks that I felt depressed, and on more than one occasion their response was along the lines of “you’re just sad –  its just your period,” or  “you can’t be depressed – you don’t look like it.” But what does depression or any other mental illness look like? It doesn’t have a face. You can’t look at someone and immediately tell they’re suffering. Depression is something dealt with daily, so chances are someone who has been experiencing it for a while has gotten some practice in at masking it. I took me about 6 months for me to realize that feeling this sad wasn’t normal, another 6 months to get the courage to ask for help, and then the following year was spent searching for a solution . “Feeling depressed” is thrown around all the time in our society as a swap for feeling down or heartbroken. With PMDD I may not have been dealing with depression relentlessly for months at a time but I was for an entire week at a time on a monthly basis. It isn’t something that can be ignored or shrugged off like sadness by going out and having a good time. It isn’t something that can be improved by counting your blessings or taking a moment to calm down. It is something that sticks by you every second of your day, like a little gray rain cloud following you around that no one else can see.

During those weeks PMDD took over my life. I was irritable and filled with anxiety, even around my best friends. It is even more than something that is always in the back of your mind –  its the feeling of hopelessness, worthlessness, and the loss of energy to have the will to complete anything. Every little task seems huge when you’re laying in bed fighting with your mind about whether or not your life is even worth something.

I spent a week out of each month for two years thinking that this is just how it was going to be. I’d spend a week hating myself, feeling extremely self-conscious, unwanted, and pathetic. The most frustrating thing was not know for sure what I was struggling with, and not knowing how to get rid of it.  I’d tried eating healthy and exercising, yoga, birth control, and acupuncture and none of them were any help. I saw a doctor to explain what was going on, and finally she put a name to my condition, wrote me a prescription for Zoloft, and suggested I go to counseling. That’s when things began to look up. I still feel a bit down sometimes when I’m PMSing but it doesn’t even compare to where I was a year ago.

If you’ve had mental health issues you know just how exhausting and frustrating it can be and how tough they are to overcome. I spent so many days wondering what exactly was wrong and if it was fixable. I tried for so long to deal with it on my own. Finding the courage to ask for help was decision I will never regret, but it was not easy. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be taken seriously, or that I would be perceived as weak. But when your mind has gone to those dark places a countless number of times, asking for help is the farthest thing from weak. It shows your courage, strength, and perseverance.

Living with a mental health issue is not the way we were intended to live.

Every night at 8:30PM my phone alarm goes off to take my medicine. Occasionally someone will ask what its for, and even though it is usually still uncomfortable to admit, I try to never hide from telling them its an anti-depressant. My hope is that being open about my mental health will serve as an example for others that its alright to say, “I’m not okay.”