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Author: Sarah Fader

Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Just when I thought I knew myself

I’ve always prided myself on knowing myself. I know who I am, what I want, and where I want to be in life. For example, I’ve been writing since I was a child and my life goal was always to be a professional writer. When I was little I used to envision myself at bookstores signing copies of my novels. It was exhilarating in my fantasy and I wanted it to come true. For a long time, I believed I could be the person in this vision. Somewhere along the way, I grew up and entered the world and realized that becoming a professional writer that was paid for her work was incredibly hard and people who made that happen were magical or knew something’s cousin or brother or ex-wife, which basically meant that they had an “in.” Anyway, being a writer stayed fantastical and it was difficult to transition the fantasy into reality. Until one day I actually started writing professionally and it made no sense to me at all. But here I am, doing that I guess.

Then there’s love. Love makes absolutely no sense at all. I jumped head first and I fell in love with someone and he fell in love with me. It was messy and scary to be that vulnerable, but it happened and I don’t regret diving into that unknown, except that now I don’t know if I am ever going to see him again because life totally fucked that one up, or maybe I did. Probably I did because I am so great at pushing people away. I want to be loved but I’m afraid that whoever ends up loving me will give up on my neuroses, sigh and walk away, or even run. I don’t leave people, because I know what it’s like to be left and it’s horrible. You’re sitting on that park bench in the dark, wondering how you’re going to get home.

Anyway, I decided to let my freak flag fly but not in a good way, in an unregulated way. I put a lot of pressure on him to understand me when it’s fucking hard to understand someone else, let alone yourself. But the biggest problem was that this: he wasn’t ready for me and I was ready for him but terrified of that readiness. So we were both afraid of love and wanted it at the same time.

Two years – a rollercoaster of passion, love, miscommunication, fighting for him and finally being together only to realize that I lost that battle. He told me he couldn’t, that he wasn’t ready for all that or maybe I wasn’t the one. I don’t know anymore. My love for him was and is real. And I can’t say that I’ll ever love like that again. That love is reserved for him and he didn’t seem to recognize how powerful it was. I wish he could see it. All I wanted to do was hold him close and take care of him. But he wouldn’t let me close enough to do that. He promised to be there for me and he wanted to, but I pushed him away, but that’s another story for another day.

When I go to sleep tonight I will imagine he’s holding me. I’ll remember the times I fell asleep on his chest, comfortably, hoping that moment would never end.

But, I saw things too rigidly, I could have let things go and stopped trying to make it a certain way. He will probably never read this. I wish he would give us another chance because I will never stop loving him. I will remember what we had because it meant something to me. And it always will, he always will.


Breaking The Habit – Compulsive Texting

As someone who has OCD, I have some bad habits that I don’t necessarily have control over. One of them is compulsively texting people, especially dudes, when I am feeling emotional or insecure. This can be a deterrent in romantic relationships. In the long term relationships that I’ve had I get triggered by certain things the guy does and then I cannot stop texting them how I feel.

I’m sure there is a way that I can stop compulsively text messaging my intense emotional feelings. However, I have yet to discover what that way is. I want to work with my psychiatrist and therapist to create a behavioral aversion to texting motional content. There is no tone in text messages so they can easily be misinterpreted.

I am lucky in the sense that the men that I’ve been relationships with tolerate my excessive texting because they know that is a part of my OCD. At times they ignore the plentiful messages they get from me.  In the moment I feel invalidated by being ignored, however I do understand that it must be so overwhelming and anxiety provoking to receive a multitude of text messages that jump from topic to topic because of my emotionality and ADHD symptoms.

I try to manage my emotions the best way that I can but it’s overwhelming for me as well. So I have asked my psychiatrist
how to deal with the urge to compulsively emote via text message. She told me to turn my phone off put it down for an hour. This is exceedingly difficult when I have emotional response I want to communicate to the man that I love.

I need to listen to her advice, however I find it challenging because placing my phone down and not interacting with it for even an hour requires this intense level of patience that I currently do not possess.

It’s unfortunate that you can just pick up patience on Amazon have it mailed to your house. Believe me I wish however, finding the ability to stay in the moment, even when feeling emotional distress, is extremely hard for me.

That is why I could possibly text person  I am in a relationship with. I want to get my feelings out so I can stop feelings such intense pain. Nevertheless this is still painful for the other person to read on the other end of the tiny cell phone screen. One incentive to stop this behavior is that it puts a strain on the relationship. This is an example of an aversion to deter someone (like me) from compulsive texting and can be talked
about in therapy.

There are so many elements to my as anxiety and compulsive texting. For
example I have an iPhone and the other person has an Android so I don’t know if they read my emotional stream of novels length texts because there is no read receipt. This causes more emotional stress, and so I continue to text.

I want to break his habit. I am working on doing so but I know that it’s going to take some time to get more emotional insight as to why I engage in this behavior. I believe it has to do with PTSD in romantic relationships. I realized  that one of my triggers is from not feeling heard as a child and in other romantic relationships. However it is not fair to take my past out on my new partner. I am working on my triggers and hopefully soon enough I won’t find the need to text message people I’m in relationships with.

How about you? How do you feel about texting.


Facing Fears

Facing fears. I have a lot of them. I was in my therapist’s office and she asked me what I was afraid of. There were too many things to name. I couldn’t even go there. I wanted to figure out what they were but my throat started to close up. I wanted to speak but it wasn’t possible. Well it was, but I was fearful of what I would say. I didn’t want to admit what I perceived as “crazy” or a “weakness.”

I am afraid of going crazy, losing my mind. But more specifically going crazy and not realizing that I am crazy. That lack of awareness terrifies me. I don’t want to be unaware of my “crazy.” There is a hypervigilance about me that (in my mind) prevents me from losing it. I am so aware of my sanity or absence thereof, that I believe that this prevents me from going crazy. But still there’s a part of me that believes that I will go crazy and I won’t be aware of it. And then what happens? If I don’t know that I am losing my mind, I can’t do anything to stop it.

I will be stuck falling down a rabbit hole and I won’t be able to save myself break my fall. It’s scary and I want to run from the fear. I don’t want to face the fear of going insane. There have been many times that I was convinced I was losing my mind and I couldn’t figure out what was real and what wasn’t. That in itself gives me anxiety. I don’t want to question everything.

She means well, my therapist, she wants me to stay still, not run away from what scares me. I don’t want to listen to her, because it feels like she’s telling me to eat healthy and exercise. That’s not fun! I want to eat cake and sit on the couch. The mental health equivalent of eating healthy and going to the gym is talking about your feelings and especially your fears. Not just talking about your fears, but actually looking at them and facing them head on. My therapist and I made a fear hierarchy list. We determined what I was the most afraid of and how to face that fear. Right now, one of the most pronounced fears I have is the fear of going crazy. I want to be aware of my surroundings, know what is happening, understand who I am and what I want.

We have limited control over things in our lives. When I started talking to my therapist about going crazy I realized (when confronting this fear) that I do have some control over it. I have insight and awareness into what I am feeling. If something doesn’t seem right, I have the ability to speak up for myself and talk to my treatment team. I can let them know that I need help. As a person living with anxiety, it’s important to be aware of my fears and to not let them run my life. I am working on that awareness. I am practicing standing still and not running away. I don’t have to fix the pain, but I can sit with it, feel it and remember that it will pass.


I am terrible at breaking up with people

Let’s face it, breakups suck. I’m not good at dumping people because I hang onto the relationship more than I should. I want to salvage it but sometimes they’re not salvageable. I just feel so bad when I hurt someone’s feelings. I mean, unless you’re a total sociopath you don’t deserve to be hurt like that. And I despise causing people pain because I have so much empathy for people even though they probably don’t deserve it sometimes. Anyway, people usually end up breaking up with me and it sucks. So when that happens I need to process that loss and breaking up with somebody- it’s sort of like dying. Whether I feel like I’m dying or I feel like the other person died because we will no longer be together. It is excruciatingly painful and I don’t wish that pain on my worst enemy.

However we need to move through this pain in order to heal and meet somebody that is better for us. Because breakups happen for a reason; people feel like they are not compatible anymore or something is dysfunctional
in the relationship. So we move on and we find a partner that understands us and their shit is compatible with our shit. We all have dysfunction and flaws and it’s about finding the person who can put up with your idiosyncrasies.

That human being is out there. But in order to find them you need to go through stages of loss or grief
and be able to heal so that you can move on in a healthy way and find the right individual for you. I know that doesn’t sound comforting
right now but I promise you you will get through this. I’ve gotten through breakups many times and they suck but c’est la vie.

Are you going through a breakup right now? Are you terrible breaking up with people or can you easily cut them loose. Let me know what your story is and maybe you can give me some tips the next time I have to dump somebody.

I’m Not An Extrovert So Stop Calling Me One!

People assume that I am an extrovert. According to the Myers-Briggs test that I’ve taken, I am not. I am an introverted individual and fall under the category of INFP. You can learn more about what that means by taking the test yourself, but I’m intuitive and empathetic and I help people get in touch with their own feelings. I can do this because I am in touch with my own. I have an emotional insight for better for worse.  I am married to my sensitivity and it helps me get through my life. For a long time, I was in denial about my sensitive nature. Being introverted and sensitive is a brutal combination for me.  It can be hard having these two qualities. Because I am a highly sensitive person,  it can be draining when I don’t implement proper boundaries. When people see me being wacky, fun and charismatic they assume that I am an extrovert but I’m not. I find being around people to be draining because I have to be “on “all the time. I don’t want to be like that. I want to have a light switch in my brain that I can turn off so I can decompress, hang out, read blog posts, books and watch Netflix for crying out loud.

People, stop calling me an extrovert when human beings make me exhausted. Come on! I’ll admit, it’s probably confusing to people when I have this big personality and feel entirely comfortable rocking out on stage acting or singing. I love to be loud and passionate about words and music. But I am actually a quiet person unless there’s someone around me who makes me feel comfortable enough to be raucous. Another thing is that people are not all one way all the time. We can feel shy at times or theatrical or even histrionic. By the way, histrionic is one of my favorite words. I think of Victorian women fainting.

My performance background is the thing that confuses most people and makes them believe that I am an extrovert. I’m not sure why this assumption is made. There are so many actors out there who have stage fright or are extremely shy. I consider myself to be one of those individuals. You can be a private person and still appear to be animated and extroverted to those around you. When I act on stage, I use the deepest darkest parts of myself that I’d rather not reveal to others. I take them and I hand them to the audience without explanation. They can consume them or discard them. My hope is that my emotions and message will help at least one person.

It’s not so black and white. We are not all shy or all extroverted. One day I might be bouncing off the walls singing to myself while walking down the street and another day I could be hiding in my bedroom crying under the covers. It’s unpredictable and I believe that part of that dichotomy has to do with my introversion. So, what about you? Are you an introvert that people mistake for an extrovert?

External Validation

External validation is something that many human beings struggle with. As somebody who lives with panic and anxiety, I often want reassurance from other people when it isn’t necessarily the most healthy thing for me. It’s hard to be able to reassure yourself and show yourself that things are going to be OK when you don’t actually feel that inside. Maybe you’re afraid or you can’t see a way out of what’s happening to you. Believe me, I have been there and it’s not a fun land to visit. It’s filled with rocks that you accidentally trip over, strangers who aren’t kind to you, and signs that lead you in the wrong direction even though it says it’s the right one. Seeking constant reassurance from others can develop into an unhealthy addictive pattern. When you find that you continually ask friends and family to show you that it’s going to be all right that isn’t allowing you the chance to find out that it will work out. Whether you do that by asking people in person or on social media, these are both methods of reassurance seeking.

And here’s the thing: you don’t always have to know how it’s going to be all right, things have a funny way of working themselves out. Another brutal truth that may be hard to swallow is that it might not be okay, but that doesn’t mean that YOU won’t be okay. Whatever happens, you will always have yourself and you can get through hard situations. Remember that you are strong and even though you might not be able to see that at the moment, it’s the truth. The idea behind coping mechanisms and self-soothing is to stay away from this reassurance-seeking behavior.

However, reassurance seeking, I hate to break it to you, but it is legitimately addictive. It can make you feel weak in the end. I reality you are strong and when you can’t see that you have the tools to handle the unknown, it feeds into an unhealthy pattern. To break that addiction it’s important to learn the proper coping mechanisms to help yourself feel better rather than relying on other people to make you feel better. Because in reality that’s a temporary fix and other people don’t have the power to make you feel whole. You have the power to heal and living with a mental illness is challenging as it is. You don’t need someone else to fix you or reassure you that things work out in the end. Sometimes we don’t know if they’ll work out in the end and that’s OK. That’s the nature of life and we do not have to know. So if you’re looking to reassure yourself by asking another person, it’s not worth it.

Search yourself for the ability to cope and change. Even if it seems like it is in there you will find it by working with your therapist. I believe in you. I believe in me and I believe that we can do this.

This is Not About Me, It’s About You

It’s not about me, it’s about you. I want too many things, I need too much, too often, and at once. What is too much anyway? The only things that are too much are quantifiable. Like when you pour a liquid into a cup and it overflows, or when you’re told to only write a 10-page paper and you write a 37 page one. Those are things that have numbers and we are able to understand their ability to overflow or be “too much.” That’s the kind of thing that goes overboard.

With people, it isn’t about an objective “too much” or excess. It’s about what another person can handle. Maybe they’re at a point in their lives when they can’t be involved in anything serious. Perhaps the person isn’t able to cope with intense emotions because they are a passionate feeling person. When you’re already a passionate person and you engage with another intense individual emotional explosions are bound to happen. This is where the potential for volatile relationships can occur. Fire and fire together breed a stronger vibrant fire and that’s what happens with the intensity of two people who feel deeply.

It’s not about me, it’s about you. You might not be able to give me what I need because you don’t have it. My darkness isn’t your responsibility but rather it’s mine. Yes, you can hold me, comfort me, tell me to breathe and stay strong. You can remind me of my fortitude and ability to conquer things, but you can’t save me. I’m starting to believe that we can’t even save ourselves. We’re all a little bit broken and those parts don’t need saving, they need love, nurturing, understanding and compassion.

We don’t need to be glued back together, we need to be listened to. There is power in being silent and hearing someone, actually listening to them and what they need.

When you need support from other people, that need, that want, that desire can feel overwhelmingly strong; so strong that it’s likened to the need for food or water. The vacancy within yourself causes you to seek to fill that void somewhere else with someone else. That void cannot be filled by someone else. It might feel like they’ve satisfied it for a moment, a day, an hour, a minute, but it isn’t a permanent solution. It is only a temporary measure to fix a deeper problem. You are putting sand into a bucket with a hole, but you can’t see the hole. The hole is so small that it feels like it’s not even there.

It’s not about me, it’s about you. It is about what I want from you but as much as you want to fix it, repair me, that’s not possible. I don’t need to be put back together by you or anyone. I am working on accepting my broken parts and loving them. I see them as a valid part of me and working on nurturing who they are. They didn’t ask to break, they were broken without their consent. Don’t blame them. Love them instead.

Finding the answer within

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Well, the important thing is that you figure it out. But sometimes we are clueless when it comes to that. It’s not like you can just stop and have an instant solution. You can’t snap your fingers and be OK with the unknown. There are times when you need to go inward and it seems like you don’t want to be around people but it’s not that, it’s that you need to find your inner strength and accept the solution when it comes to you naturally.

Sometimes a solution isn’t on the surface; if you are patient with yourself (which I know is hard to do because I struggle with that myself) you’ll find something that makes sense to you and don’t think about other people; think about what is important to you and makes the most sense for you and your life. You don’t need to feel guilty for putting yourself first. You don’t need to explain yourself to anybody because this is your life.

Yes, I am talking to myself because that’s what I do when I’m not sure how to handle the situation.

That’s situation is life, and life gives you some major unexpected things that you don’t always know how to handle. The goal is to learn and hopefully grow through trauma and pain and things that we cannot control.

There is no one to my knowledge that has been prepared for anything and everything in life because that is emotionally and physically impossible. And would you want it that way? I wouldn’t actually, I want to be able to respond to things with the tools that I’ve developed and work to conquer things because of my inner fortitude. I don’t want to make people angry by needing too much and asking for what I can actually give myself if I can think for a moment. A single pause can be so profound. Have you ever stopped when you want to go? Have you ever frozen when you want to run? That’s what I need to do right now. If I act before I think my whole life will change without my consent. That’s exactly what I don’t want to happen. So this is where I leave you. Where I say, I’ll see you when I come out of this mind puzzle. All the pieces are here but my negative thought patterns are disguising them. Where are the simple solutions? That’s right, there are none. That’s why I have a sword and a backpack with an arsenal of tools that I can use. I can cut through the thoughts like unwanted weeds in a garden and find who and what I am seeking. There is no permanence to this path. Only the promise of uncertainty.

I’m with you on this journey even if we don’t know each other. Because we are all living except if you’re an alien and then I don’t know to tell you.

Childhood on The UWS

It was nice seeing one of my oldest friends today. It brought me back to my childhood on the UWS. Walking up 87th Street, seeing the crack dens. I passed the halfway house. Saw the Vietnam Veteran who had TBI and talked to himself. I was told a grenade blew up in front of him. I didn’t know what TBI was when I was seven. I knew that he seemed sad and scared. I used to count crack vials in my elementary school playground because they were colorful. Pizza was its own food group.

Central Park was my backyard and Pepsi was always in the fridge. It was a strange mixture of middle class, rich people, poor people and homeless people. As a child, I didn’t understand any of this. I just knew that I had a red cabinet that mysteriously had food it in. My childhood can’t be replicated today because organic is trendy and people don’t make fun of the peanut butter you can make yourself at the health food store. They think it’s genius instead.

I don’t know where I was going with this except to say that I remember many things, and I don’t know what my children will remember.


He Will Get The Help He Needs

He will get the help he needs. 

For two weeks I was on autopilot, doctors appointments, trips to the Emergency Room, medical residents who didn’t know what they were doing, diagnoses being thrown around and me questioning everything. All of it.  Social Anxiety, O.D.D., Zoloft, therapy, ADHD, pediatric bipolar disorder, hyperfocus, technology addiction. This was/is my reality. I didn’t want to belive that. Any of it. You’re not talking about my child. You don’t know him. You’re looking at a piece of paper and saying things about residential treatment. I know him. You’ve never met him. Don’t tell me what to believe about my own kid. I gave birth to him. I’ve watched him grow and from a tiny infant to a young man. And he’s trying. He has been handed a complicated set of genetics and a series of events that he couldn’t control. It’s like a campfire that was already blazing that someone threw gasoline on. He was treated poorly by the school system, misunderstood, stigmatized, told he was a poor listener, treated like he was a “bad kid.” Children aren’t bad, they are children. He is a sensitive, kind, scared little boy who is afraid to sleep by himself. He is almost 10 and he needs to be reassured that nothing bad is happening to him. He can’t understand the thoughts in his brain. When I ask him, he says “it’s complicated, I can’t explain it.” He probably doesn’t know what they are, what they mean.

The system is broken. The structure that is supposed to help him isn’t doing anything. He’s a number in a pool of other numbers. His case “isn’t that urgent” and he’s not a “high priority,” but yet, I keep being told that things will get better.

They’re not getting better. They just are. We have 10 appointments in the next month to understand what is happening to my son. I wish I could tell you that I had faith that we will get some answers, but I don’t know what to believe anymore. I’m exhausted, and I’m tired of asking other people for help. It’s not fair to them. They have their own lives, children, families and this is my life. My obligation is to my little boy who isn’t little anymore.

He will get the help he needs. 

I have heard this so many times over the past month. I want it to be true. I want to believe that this road leads to a place of peace. But I can’t know anything at all. None of us can. People have told me that it’s going to work out, but how do they know? They don’t. It’s something that people say when they want to be supportive, empathetic, but they don’t know what to do for you. There’s nothing that they can do. They can’t fix it.

For several days at night I lay there and looked at the white ceiling wanting to cry. It was so painful inside me but the tears never came. Though I wanted them to, they didn’t. I wasn’t ready to break yet. It wasn’t time.

Until today.

I felt weak. I have been fighting so hard from him and my body is tired. I have been asserting all the power I have and I’ve gotten nowhere.

Maybe it was the acupuncture, the naturopath who read me like a book, who inserted needles into the right spots in my body pushing the qi out of me. He allowed my emotions to flow out of me.

He will get the help he needs. 

I’m crying now. Sitting here writing here, tears rolling down my face, praying to God that my son gets the help that he needs. He deserves that. He deserves to be happy for more than one solitary moment. I know it’s possible because he once told me:

“Mommy, I feel happy for no reason.”

I know underneath this hopelessness I feel that he will come out of this. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of how.